Usually I don’t get hyped by musicals… and by “usually” I mean “never,” but I can safely say that this is the one I was. The visual style looked beautiful and the songs teased in the trailers sounded really nice.
But lets tackle another big reason why I wanted to see this. Co-starring, we have partners-in-crime, Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, making this the third movie they’ve done together. Yeah, can you believe that? The other two being CRAZY, STUPID, LOVE (2011) and GANGSTER SQUAD (2013). I guess it’s a tad less obnoxious than seeing Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper together (four times worked together), but hey, if chemistry exists, you know you’re going to get a solid performance. And I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t an avid fan of Stone. She is so adorable and so incredibly talented. The first movie I saw her in was THE HOUSE BUNNY (2008). Say what you want, but Stone was the standout performer in my opinion, but I didn’t become a fan of hers until, you guessed it, ZOMBIELAND (2009). Since then, she’s become one of the most sought after actresses and one of the most popular, and it’s not hard to see why. Now for Gosling. While he’s not my favorite actor, I do see that he’s one of the best. I just haven’t always liked, or been interested in his work. I know DRIVE (2011) was a critical darling and it was popular among film buffs, but man, I thought it was overrated. Not bad, just… not that good. I love THE NOTEBOOK (2004) of course, and I sure did really like THE BIG SHORT (2015), but more for Steve Carrell than him. But if he’s working on a musical and singing, I’m totally down.
Now for behind the scenes. Writing and directing is Damien Chazelle. He hasn’t done too much as either, but he did write and direct the critically acclaimed WHIPLASH (2014), and co-wrote 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE (2016) and THE LAST EXORCISM PART II (2013). The composer, as well has having a hand in writing the lyrics of the music, is Justin Hurwitz, reuniting with Chazelle from WHIPLASH. Beyond that, he hasn’t done much else. Finally, the cinematographer is Linus Sandgren, known for JOY (2015), THE HUNDRED-FOOT JOURNEY (2014), and AMERICAN HUSTLE (2013).
Overall, I’m pretty stoked to see this. Reviews are raving and ratings are damn attractive too. IMDb has it at an 8.6/10 and RottenTomatoes has it at a 96% (both as of 12/9/2016). As for me, I think I might agree with those. This is my honest opinion of LA LA LAND.
In this musical romance, Mia (Emma Stone) is a barista who is aspiring to become an actress. Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) is a pianist with a passion for jazz and longs to open his own jazz club, believing that it’s a dying musical form. Both meet under less than friendly circumstances, not liking each other at first, but eventually fall in love and begin motivating each other to pursue their dreams.
It’s so good! It’s fun, it’s colorful, it’s well-acted, directed, ahhhh it’s a little slice of cinematic fun. However… it’s good… not great. And it’s not great for only ONE SPECIFIC GOD-DAMNED REASON!!!
*slow inhale… slow exhale* But we’ll get to that.
I think it’s important to note that this movie is billing itself as a musical. It… is, but I wouldn’t expect many big and elaborate dance numbers because there’s only one, maybe two. I mean, the aficionados will probably count four or five, but if you’re a casual musical watcher like me, you think big and elaborate numbers. Like I said, there’s only two. The others are much smaller. Don’t get me wrong, they’re all well-choreographed, Gosling and Stone are wonderful, but those big numbers are very few and almost seem really out of place. It’s not a negative, I’m not docking brownie points for it (trust me, I’ll rip into my problem in a bit), but… yeah, personal side note for me.
But lets talk about the actual musical aspects, the songs and dances. “Another Day of Sun” is that classic big number with lots of singers, lots of dancers, all of it taking place on a Los Angeles freeway. Like, this isn’t some set. They closed that freeway down for this set-up. I know techniques were utilized to make it look like a single shot, but it was pretty obvious where the cuts were. Still, pretty fun despite the fact that I couldn’t understand the lyrics. Then again, I don’t surround myself in musicals, so my ears aren’t trained to understand lyrics belted by a hundred people. It all just sort of… mushes together creating noise, not words. It’s not a negative, but still. “Someone in the Crowd” suffers much the same inaudibility, though not nearly as harsh. Not the most memorable in sound, but I do remember the flashy colors and how much fun it was. “A Lovely Night” is probably the most enjoyable as far as seeing Gosling and Stone together, tap-dancing. It’s very simple, but you remember the atmosphere, the playful, yet subtle jabs shared between them, but it’s definitely more of a dance number than a musical one. Or… is there really a difference and they all fall under the same category of “musical?” Can you tell I’m not familiar with the structure of this genre? “City of Stars” is pretty charming, also very simple. Again, much bigger focus on atmosphere and feelings rather than anything elaborate, and a very whistle-prone song as well. It helps that it’s a song that features a lot of whistling, and it’s featured in one of the trailers. “Planetarium” was actually one of the more elaborate and beautiful dance numbers with a very distinct visual style. Some wire work, mixed with some traditional silhouette dancing (pretty sure those shadows weren’t Gosling or Stone, but whatever), it was a gorgeous visual fantasia, among my favorites to watch. This is about where the movie stops being a musical and goes for traditional story-telling. The musical aspects don’t make a resurgence until toward the end of the film. Oh and Stone’s “Fools Who Dream” is a beautifully sung and sends chills down your spine.
So Gosling and Stone… what can you freakin’ say about them? Whatever talent they were hiding all these years, they BROUGHT IT. They are so much fun to watch and listen. Apparently, when you see Gosling play the piano, that’s not CGI. He apparently spent two hours a day six days a week getting down his scenes and it’s beautiful. And Stone? By God, she was perfect. Every emotion she’s supposed to hit, she knocks it out of the park. When Mia doesn’t land a good audition, she gets frustrated. As in, really frustrated. Not in some over-the-top half grunt, half scream, but rather a really subtle performance of disappointment that spoke volumes. Or when she’s become determined, you see the fire in her eyes and I found myself genuinely happy for her and excited with her.
But now it’s time… it’s time to talk about the one… single problem I had with this film. It’s a bit of a rant and it dives into some serious spoilers so… yeah, y’all been forewarned.
Toward the end of the film, Sebastian has signed on to a band that is a fusion of jazz and pop. It’s clear he doesn’t like it, but he does it as a means of bringing in a steady income and eventually open the jazz club that he wants to have. So he’s on tour around the country, and some time passes. Mia’s getting her play put together and calls Sebastian one evening. She comes home and is surprised to find him in their shared home with dinner prepared. Pretty cute surprise, right? So they’re sitting and eating and somehow someway, someone said something and I knew exactly how this scene was going to conclude. I couldn’t even pinpoint where it all came crashing down, but essentially, Mia calls out Sebastian about how much longer he’ll be in this band. After all, it was only meant to be a means of income for the jazz club. But Sebastian is uncharacteristically mean-spirited when he gets all defensive, saying shit like, “I thought this is what you wanted! I thought this is what normal people do! Have a steady job with a steady income!” And Sebastian never made any inclination toward wanting to do this forever. And all the while, Mia’s getting defensive (for good reason, if you ask me) wondering why he’s given up on his dreams and he has absolutely no answer for her. Instead, it ends with him saying, “Maybe you only liked me because it made you feel better about yourself,” or something to that effect. Who the hell would blame Mia for walking out of the house on him?!
To make matters worse, Mia’s play is the next scene and Sebastian is supposed to support her. Problem is, he’s supposed to go with the band to a photoshoot that night. Get this, it’s that cliché of, “oops, I thought that was some other night.” And instead of taking a proverbial punch to support his loving and supportive girlfriend, he stays for the shoot. The same one that he’s ass-miserable in and arrives only after her play has concluded. Can you figure out my problems with these scenes yet? Sebastian is a GOD-DAMNED TWAT!!! These are the only scenes where I have to express my distaste for these damned clichéd bullshit. First of all, these arguments and misunderstandings at the end of the second act or at the beginning of the third, they shouldn’t be in our movies anyway. But if you’re going to have them, the best writers would make it so that the audience can see both sides of the argument. But in that dinner scene, only Mia has the argument that the audience agrees with. Sebastian comes off as a petulant child.
But worse, this blow-up between them is COMPLETELY POINTLESS!!! Wanna know why? Because they don’t stay together by the time the credits roll anyway! Let me explain this because I know someone’s about to object in some manner. The whole point of their relationship was to motivate each other into pursuing their dreams. Even had Sebastian said to hell with the photoshoot, Mia’s play would still have opened to a small crowd. She would still have overheard her stage-hands talk shit about her play. She could still have hit her breaking point and gone home. Sebastian still could have gotten that phone call from the film director and he still could have driven to Mia’s home and kicked her ass into shape for the audition. Five months later, they’ve moved on with their lives. Mia’s married to another man with a kid and has become a famous actress, and Sebastian opened his jazz club. The audience would get it if that’s what the film would have stuck with. That’s how life works sometimes. People travel down different avenues in their lives and sometimes that causes us to drift away from those we love at the time. Some continue their relationships, most don’t. Even if you wanted to argue that it still would have been an emotional ball-buster, the two randomly not being together after having a great relationship throughout the movie, getting rid of a contrived argument that completely destroys the personality of one of the two focus-characters who has been perfectly likable throughout the story is still worse than a completely random, “Wait, they broke up?! When did that happen?!” moment.
Despite the one glaring problem I had, this movie is a damn incredible experience. Some fun dance numbers, great singing, wonderful visuals, it’s definitely one to not miss, whether you’re a fan of the genre or not. It’s silly and sometimes ridiculous, but if you can get past that, then I highly recommend it.
My honest rating for LA LA LAND: 4/5