When confronted with what is tantamount to pure cinematic joy, don’t over think it and just go with it. Ever since it made its bow at the Venice, Telluride and subsequently at the Toronto International Film Festival; La La Land has been building goodwill much like steam in a freight train before it opens in limited release on Christmas Day and subsequently goes wide all across Canada and I am here to tell you that they are all right on the money. This film is a delightful ode to the yesteryear of Hollywood, the power of the movie musical and how to make something purely charming and life affirming in a world abound by social upheaval and tragedy. It’s the tonic that humanity not only wanted, but needed here at the end of 2016.
It’s the City of Angels where ten new dreamers arrive in town every hour for everyone hope that never quite makes it. Mia (Emma Stone) is an aspiring actress who in-between auditions and call backs is slinging lattes to movie stars and executives that pull up to her shop on the lot each and every day while Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) is a dedicated jazz musician spending countless hours evolving his craft in dingy cocktail bars with audiences that would rather hear ‘The Girl From Ipanema’ then anything by Thelonious Monk. Together they find the kind of happiness they had only ever gotten from their chosen art forms, however as their individual successes begin to mount through their support of each other they are forced to confront realities and make decisions that slowly tear at the fabric of their love affair. Now these two dreamers on the brink of success, risk having their success tear themselves apart as a couple in love.
While I’ll be the first to admit that it is far too easy to lean into the hyperbole that can come out of festival audiences this is a clear cut exception where overselling it all just might not be possible. La La Land is the epitome of cinematic joy from its exceptionally mounted opening number to its heart rendering yet grounded finale that gives audiences nothing but satisfaction during a ride that is exceptionally well spent.
In his third feature length effort, writer/director Damien Chazelle is growing by leaps and bounds and has truly become a filmmaker that isn’t afraid to put exactly what he wants on the screen. He paints Los Angeles in a Neon Day-Glo haze of heat and hopefulness that finds its way into the story and into the very nature of these characters that we are tracking. By blending the style and sensibility of a Gene Kelly yarn and a Joseph L Mankiewicz epic, this movie is truly a master class and ode to the magic of classic Hollywood where the production design was big and shiny but the relationships and character development were incredibly intimate and effective. It reminds us of a time when storytelling on celluloid was a magical thing as it all flows across the screen thanks to some out of the box performances.
Both Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone aren’t exactly known for their prowess in singing and dancing…but that’s exactly why everything they do works so damn well. The film and their performances strip down the desire to examine craft and judge vocal techniques; it instead allows for us an audience to revel in the pure joy of the moment and the emotions that they are getting across on the screen. It’s the third time that these two have worked together and their on-screen chemistry is simply electric. Together or apart both Stone and Gosling carry the screen with an absolute sense of confidence and ease that is needed in a film like this. They sell us on their love, and they sell us on why their love has to end even though they really do still love each other as much as they did from the first time they met. It’s about that moment in all of our lives where someone changes us forever and while we in many ways want to hold on to the magic of those moments forever, we logically know that they were never meant to be forever and never were.
La La Land is truly about how we truly have to live as a species; in the moment. While we want to hold on to and recreate some moments as often as possible we also have to know how to appreciate and move on from those things all at the same time. La La Land is about appreciating that magic moment in love and thanks to the moving image we get to revisit it as often as we damn well please.
- Release Date: 12/25/2016