Review written by: Josh Kristianto, Film Frenzy Contributing Writer.
In 2016, Damien Chazelle released La La Land, which starred Emma Stone, Ryan Gosling, John Legend, J.K. Simmons, Jessica Rothe, Rosemarie DeWitt, Sonoya Mizuno, and Finn Wittrock. It grossed $151.1 million at the box office.
Mia works as a barista at a Hollywood film studio hoping to become a famous actress one day. After flopping a disastrous audition, she decides to attend a night party with her friends in Los Angeles, only to run into a discourteous Jazz pianist on her way back home. After a chilly, sarcastic start, the two soon click together in a beaming romance.
An undeniable and irresistible film, La La Land celebrates the day with undaunted nostalgia and a radiant application of heart and melancholy. It is simply contagious. The film understands exactly what it’s supposed to be, and the result is pure magic. It takes the old-fashioned and breathes new life into it, reviving the sentiments of older audiences while sparking new admiration among the young. The film is an absolute triumph for Chazelle.
The opening musical number bursts with brightness and glimmering color, contrasted perfectly with the bland, monotone background of freeway traffic in Los Angeles. Right away, viewers are introduced through song to the overarching themes of the film, one of which is how far artists go to reach their dreams. The filmmakers certainly wanted to portray the undying optimism and stubbornness people in Hollywood seem to need when they start off. Interestingly, the song does stand in contrast to Mia’s experience, who after one last hurrah, decides to quit chasing her dream and go home. This dichotomy makes Mia’s rejection all the more impactful emotionally.
The movie flows through each plot development seamlessly, never wasting a moment with pointless side stories. Most of the time, the story is very fun and lighthearted, thanks to the charming manners of both Stone and Gosling. The cinematography helps create a quick-moving feel to the plot, making scenes very exciting even though the setting might be mundane or unremarkable. There is also a touch of charm to each scene, whether it’s seeing the same twinkling light posts in different moments of the film or hearing variations of the film’s musical themes throughout.
The music, composed by Chazelle’s Harvard friend Justin Hurwitz, provides the foundation for the film itself, unifying different moments of the film to each other through to the end. The jazz compositions make the movie feel very nostalgic, as if it was made for an older time. In many ways, the movie does feel like a classic Hollywood production. Every song, lyric, and composition adds its own beautiful brushstroke to the grander picture. Viewers will feel enraptured by the emotions they stir without ever feeling that one musical piece is out of place with the others.
Stone and Gosling share an infectious onscreen chemistry solidifying everything the film wants to be. As such, audiences are treated to something genuine, something so palpable it can warm the heart and tear it apart in all the right moments. The romantic scene where Stone and Gosling share a duet while high atop a hill overlooking city lights below will surely bring up an irresistible smile on anyone. Both actors make their characters delightfully charming, both in humor and their banter together. They also convincingly portray their roles during the more dramatic moments of the story. All this makes the twist ending gut-wrenching yet bittersweet.
An achievement in taking the old and making it new, the film breathes new life into an outdated film genre, taking audiences on a thrilling, exuberant musical journey.
Bold indicates reception of award/recognition
- Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role (Emma Stone)
- Best Achievement in Directing
- Best Achievement in Cinematography
- Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures (Original Score)
- Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures (Original Song) (Song: “City of Stars”)
- Best Achievement in Production Design
- Best Motion Picture of the Year
- Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role (Ryan Gosling)
- Best Original Screenplay
- Best Achievement in Film Editing
- Best Achievement in Costume Design
- Best Achievement in Sound Mixing
- Best Achievement in Sound Editing
- Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures (Original Song (Song: “Audition (The Fools Who Dream)”)
Golden Globe Awards
- Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy
- Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy (Ryan Gosling)
- Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy (Emma Stone)
- Best Director – Motion Picture
- Best Screenplay – Motion Picture
- Best Original Song – Motion Picture (For the song: “City of Stars”)
- Best Original Score – Motion Picture