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La La Land: A Millennial's Movie Review

Updated on January 13, 2017

City of Stars

La La Land is a romantic musical directed by Damien Chazelle and starring Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling as two struggling artists in Los Angeles. The film is an ode to Hollywood and the arts as it depicts the lives of Mia (Stone), an actress; as well as Sebastian (Gosling), a jazz pianist. Both have dreams to make it big in the harsh, judgemental environment of Hollywood in our modern times, and they find solace as well as love in each other, as they strive not only to survive, but thrive in their respective futures.

With its recent record-breaking haul at the Golden Globes, much attention has been sitting on La La Land’s potential at the upcoming Academy Awards. Damien Chazelle’s last film, Whiplash, was nothing but a riveting joy of a film, and so the fact that he has progressed to a full-blown musical should be reason enough to get excited about La La Land. Add to that the sure-fire chemistry of Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling’s third collaboration (after Crazy Stupid Love and Gangster Squad), and we have what shapes up to be a potential modern classic. Does La La Land deliver on already high expectations, or will it be lost to the light in the city of stars?

Initial Thoughts

La La Land easily lands itself in the list of 2016’s best movies. Charming, colourful and treated with unmistakeably passionate hearts, La La Land not only succeeds in showing us the vibrant, energetic L.A. lifestyle, but also the dark, cruel paths that many determined stars-to-be tread on their road to achieving their goals, all while the film is slowly draped with an inspiring message of hope that many will see a reflection of themselves in. The film is brilliantly acted, directed, shot and scored, showing the high calibre of technical and creative skill involved in what truly may become a contemporary classic. Strangely enough, the film is a visionary yet a traditionalist. A dreamer yet a realist. One does not watch La La Land. One experiences it, as if floating through a fantasy while being transfixed by its grandeur. Fans of the lead actors as well as fans of musicals and film are in for a treat.

Chasing the Dream

Director Damien Chazelle has outdone himself with a film that may well be the highlight of his surely long future career. Expertly guiding the characters through a relatively simple plot with so many brilliantly choreographed set pieces and beautifully directed sequences, Chazelle often keeps the camera rolling to maintain the film’s theatre-style consistency, allowing the viewer to feel the emotional impact of each and every scene, and making the payoff at the end all the more heartfelt.

Emma Stone gives the performance of her career with a standout showcase of talent. Having to act, sing and dance while playing a budding actress, Stone’s Mia glides elegantly across the screen one moment, then breaks down into emotional rawness the next. She jives unembarrassedly from scene to scene, building up her character with every passing minute in an award-worthy confidence. Her suave acting partner Ryan Gosling, though not as well-explored as Mia, provides a solid performance as the strong-willed Sebastian, whose career story nicely complements Mia’s arc. Gosling carries over his humour and charisma from the Nice Guys into a more grounded role which is just as likeable as his last. Mia and Sebastian are initially like two sides of the same coin, yet their chemistry allows each side to meld seamlessly into the other, ultimately enabling both characters to immerse themselves and the viewer into their beautifully chaotic world.

Another Day of Sun

Few opening scenes set the tone for the rest of the film as well as La La Land’s does. Right from the get go, the film tells you exactly what to expect with a great ensemble number, which is only the first of many memorable tunes throughout the film. It wouldn’t be a musical without the main attraction, and La La Land’s music is by a mile its greatest highlight, with smooth, catchy melodies that the film makes you remember by marrying them with the perfect scenes and characters. Composer Justin Hurwitz has just elevated himself to legend status with his memorable soundtrack, infused with broadway, pop and jazz, and eliciting waves of hope, joy, love and melancholy. Emma Stone’s last number was as emotional as it was inspiring, seeming as if she was speaking directly to the audience as she sang. And as I sit here typing, ‘City of Stars’ is playing in the background, the gorgeous view of the sea at dusk still fresh in my mind.

The city of Los Angeles is no stranger to being filmed, and La La Land simply adds to the already long list of films that showcase the beauty of the lights, the splendour of the streets, and the often excessive life of its inhabitants. The colour palette used in this film gives every scene a vibrant glow, and while I can’t pretend to know much about colour in filming and editing, as a viewer I thought the film utilised its blocks and shades wonderfully. The elaborately designed sets and brightly coloured costumes are a feast for the eyes, as the city comes alive in the most exciting of ways.

It's Conflict and it's Compromise

It becomes a difficult exercise to pick out flaws after watching such a clearly well-made film, but if I were forced to give one, it would be that La La Land probably isn’t for everyone. It’s as much a fantasy as it is a romantic musical. Several sequences are shot to pay homage to the Hollywood of the past, and thus may come off as a bit unusual and even boring to certain viewers. Some may need to put more trust than others into the film, allowing the premise to permeate their hearts and souls in order to fully appreciate it. To some of the optimists in the audience, the ending of the film may also be poorly received. That said, I found the ending an absolutely perfect conclusion to the story, classily hammering home the film’s most profound message: that chasing your dreams often comes not without cost, and that some things in life are cruelly irrevocable.

Concluding Remarks

This one is for the dreamers. It will be quite a while before we see a truly special film like La La Land again. If you’re a fan of Hollywood, of music, of top notch acting, or if you need another reason to chase your goals, La La Land has something for you. Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling turn out a performance that many will never forget, and the songs are bound to get you humming and whistling for days on end. Its themes and messages are profound, whispering to the very core of our being, and I was spellbound by every minute of it. So give it your heart and let it take you on a ride through the lives of dreamers. But for now, the sun is nearly gone, the lights are turning on, a silver shine that stretches to the sea…

Overall Rating: 9.2/10

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5 out of 5 stars from 2 ratings of La La Land

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    • profile image

      A friend 10 months ago

      Beautiful movie.

    • Nick Oon profile image
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      Nick Oon 10 months ago from London

      @lovebuglena I totally share your passionate dislike of having to look straight up to watch films, but I'm glad you liked the film anyways. I do understand the mixed feelings about the ending, but I do feel it serves the message of the film very well, and it is very reminiscent of the ending of a classic film (mentioned in the movie as well, but I shan't mention its name for fear of spoiling it for others). I also agree both leads deserve Oscar nods, though my guess is that Ryan may lose out to Casey Affleck or Denzel, while Emma faces stiff competition from Natalie Portman and Isabelle Huppert (who's gained surprising traction over the past week). But fingers crossed! You have a great week ahead too!

    • Nick Oon profile image
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      Nick Oon 10 months ago from London

      Thank you @Laura335 ! Thanks for sharing that funny contrast between Rogue One against La La Land! It does make sense considering that Rogue One had been out for a couple of weeks by then, and La La Land has been getting phenomenal awards buzz in the past few weeks. If you like what you've read in the review (as in, the content of the film), then I'd encourage you to support the film! Hollywood needs to make more films of this quality. Have a great week ahead.

    • lovebuglena profile image

      Lena Kovadlo 10 months ago from Staten Island, NY

      I saw the movie before it was even out everywhere. The theater was packed (sold-out screening) and I ended up sitting pretty close to the screen, which I hate, but that didn't stop me from enjoying the movie. I love musicals and this was quite a treat to watch. Really enjoyed it from beginning to end, though the ending was somewhat unexpected. Emma and Ryan definitely delivered in these roles; no surprise they both won Golden Globes. I will be very much disappointed if they do not get Oscar nominations (and wins).

    • Laura335 profile image

      Laura Smith 10 months ago from Pittsburgh, PA

      Great review. I haven't seen it yet, but you've illustrated why it's so talked about. I went to see Rogue One on New Year's Eve at the only theater in my area that plays "artsy" films, and it was funny to see all of the showings for Rogue One still open while three of the La La Land showings were sold out by 11am.

    • Nick Oon profile image
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      Nick Oon 10 months ago from London

      Hi Lisa. Yes, I'd recommend it to most people, but keep in mind that it IS a musical, so if that's not your thing, then enter with caution. I gave it quite a glowing review, but everyone is entitled to their own opinion! Have a good weekend!

    • Lisa Holloway profile image

      Lisa Holloway 10 months ago

      i seen this movie advertised is it any good

    • asifahsankhan profile image

      asifahsankhan 10 months ago

      Good one. Will read the rest later. I'm saving it which is what I usually do when I see something worth reading.

      I'm looking forward to watch it. Cheers! : )