A few weeks ago, the Hollywood Foreign Press had its annual Golden Globe Awards, in which people from all over the world vote for what they believe are the year’s best in film and television. This past ceremony was like most, except for the fact that when it came to film, it seemed as if only one movie kept winning; “La La Land.”
The modern musical swept the comedy or musical movie category, winning all seven of its nominations including Best Picture, and is already gaining major Oscar momentum. With all of its hype and awards, I was expecting “La La Land” to be one of the best movies of the year, and thankfully it delivered on almost every expectation.
“La La Land” stars Emma Stone as Mia, a young barista working on the Warner Brothers studio lot who aspires to become a famous actress. One night after a party with her friends, she wanders into a restaurant and meets the somewhat rude jazz pianist Sebastian, played by Ryan Gosling. Sebastian gets fired that night, and the two meet up a few weeks later at another party.
After some initial annoyance, the two develop a sweet relationship that goes through some big ups and downs as the two pursue their dreams, with Mia continually attempting to find her big break, and Sebastian attempting to open his own jazz club.
The story is a bit small and has been seen many times before, but that’s part of the film’s charm. The entire film is a love story to the Golden Age of Hollywood, but still throws in its own twists and is charming and wildly entertaining.
Stone does a fantastic job playing Mia as a character that feels very real instead of the clichéd “dreamer” type character that it could have ended up being.
Mia isn’t constantly optimistic and always blathering on about how acting is her passion and her destiny. Rather, she is very self-doubting and worried that maybe her dream is for someone else.
This mindset leads to some heartbreaking scenes that feel not only like something Stone would say in real life, but also feel relatable to almost any member of the audience who has a dream.
Her singing voice is a bit weak, but sweet and emotional, which is especially shown off in her solo song, “The Fools Who Dream.”
Gosling as Sebastian gives a fine performance, but honestly nothing too special or memorable. Honestly, for about half the film I forgot the character was named Sebastian instead of just being named Ryan Gosling.
His character is a bit of a jazz elitist, which can get annoying at moments, and his singing voice isn’t the greatest, but it’s easy to see that he’s giving it his all.
The supporting cast does a good job as well, like John Legend and J.K. Simmons, but they each only appear for a brief few moments, with Simmons feeling more like an extended cameo than an actual part.
The best part of the film has to be its main selling point: the musical numbers. From the upbeat and captivating “Another Day of Sun” to the somber “City of Stars,” each song is beautifully shot, most without cuts and incredibly catchy.
The director Damien Chazelle knows how to shoot scenes with instruments being played, as previously evidenced by his 2015 Oscar Nominee “Whiplash,” and he shows this impressive skill again with extended sequences of Gosling playing piano and multiple sequences involving wonderfully shot jazz bands.
While every musical number is nice, the most beautiful sequence of the film, and maybe one of the most beautiful sequences of the decade so far in my opinion, is the dance number at the Griffith Observatory.
It’s a longer sequence with no dialogue, just a gorgeous starry background and the silhouettes of Gosling and Stone dancing almost as if there was no gravity. It’s an image that’s sure to become iconic, and one that hasn’t left my brain since seeing the film.
“La La Land” is sure to gain some backlash soon because of all of the praise it’s getting. Heck, even “Saturday Night Live” has already had a sketch in which a young man is arrested because he just thinks the film is “okay” instead of one of the best films of the year. However, the film does live up to the hype that has been building up.
While it’s not perfect, with a kind of dull Gosling performance and a familiar story that has been seen multiple times before, the film more than makes up for it with good singing, fun dancing, gorgeous cinematography and direction and an ending that has upset many people, but goes perfectly with the rest of the film.
With the seven Golden Globes under its belt and 14 Oscar nominations, “La La Land” is absolutely worth seeing, not only for the beauty of the film, but also to be part of the cultural conversation.