City Of Stars: La La Land

For this review, I’m going to use the IO9 format for reviews, a Q&A Style.


Oohh! La La Land! That movie I’ve been hearing a lot about!

Yep. The musical-romance starring Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone as a down-on-his-luck jazz musician and wannabe actress in L.A. Directed by Damien Chazelle of Whiplash. It just won a ton of Golden Globes.

Do you think it was a masterpiece? Truly the best film of the year?

Maybe. It certainly is one of the best films of the year.

You’re not just going to praise it?

No, I think we should discuss it and explore the nuances of it. I don’t believe in blindly accepting a critic’s every word.

That’s what I do with your reviews.

I’m the exception. You can trust me.

Okay, so first off, how is the music? Can Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling really sing?

They both do nice jobs with their singing! It’s obvious they are not professionals, but at least they are doing their own singing. After the film I went home and listened to the soundtrack again. I’m sure an original song nomination will come during the Oscars.

For someone who likes musicals too, it was hard after the movie to not want to get up and sing.  Maybe I left the theater humming. Maybe I did a little dance with my sister in the lobby of the theater. You don’t know. You weren’t there.

(There’s your shout-out, Eliza, I hope you’re happy)

Is the acting good?

Absolutely- the hype is valid. Emma Stone in particular is able to show her entire range, and everyone does a good job. It truly is an actor’s film, and I’m sure the academy will reward it for that, along with other things it sets bait for.

Sets bait for… wait, are you saying this is an Oscar-bait movie?

Well, to be fair, most movies that come out around this time are looking for an Oscar, and it’s no secret that everybody in Hollywood wants one. Why not try for one? But in La La Land’s case, there are two trains of thoughts on this.

First, director Damien Chazelle wrote the script for La La Land in 2010, before he thought he would have a chance in the business and before Whiplash fame. He wrote it out of love for old movies. Therefore the use of Cinemascope, allusions to films like Singin’ in the Rain, Top Hat, Rebel Without a Cause, and The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, the soft lighting, dusk-hour shots, and the underlying theme of sacrificing for your art, came from his heart. Those things came from his desire to make a film that is a modern masterpiece. And if he wrote and made the film because he truly loves it, then great!

But here is what bugged me as I watched it: First off, the Academy Awards love movies about movies and about working actors. The Academy loves to justify their own careers and flaunt their own success. And La La Land does that. Using the techniques that La La Land uses- obviously with the intention of replicating the masterpieces it is referring to- made me feel like I was being goaded at the whole time. The film seemed to keep on asking, Do you like me? Do you like me now? How about this? This is pretty cool. Look at this! Remember that old classic? We’re alluding to it here. Is it good? Do you like it?, knowing that the critical audience for this film- people who love old movies and musicals- couldn’t resist it.

So you don’t like that it tries to be a good movie? What’s wrong with you? Plus, it’s not just a celebration of old movies. It’s a romance between Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, and that appeals to the public.

Thinking back to other movies that I have liked this year, like Fences, Hidden Figures, Sing Street, Zootopia, and others, I think that all the stories of those films have an urgency and importance to them. They are fresh, have something to say, and have a message that can resonate on some level with everyone. La La Land lacks that. A story of two dreamers who are insecure about their dreams is something I’ve seen before. Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone have been in two other movies together before, although this problem has nothing to do with the characters- both Mia and Sebastian are flawed with full character arcs. But I’ve seen the crazy, tortured soul artist before, and a lot of movies take place in L.A. and romanticize it.

Now I should add, to be fair, maybe I didn’t “get” La La Land to its full extent because it’s a movie made to replicate the emotion of being in love, and to my parents’ enthusiasm, I’m young and have never been in love before. But the story seemed to service the technique and medium, instead of the other way around.

So, because you don’t love the ordinariness of the story, does that mean you didn’t like the movie?

Absolutely not! I said it was one of the best films of the year, and it makes my top ten list. With all that I’ve said critically, La La Land makes some of the best uses of the film medium I have ever seen. I would say the film almost shines more than its actors.

Something striking about the movie is how it uses the musical format to emphasize the main characters. Maybe it’s just me (although I sure hope not) but I sometimes have moments where I imagine there is a movie playing out around me, starring me. The spotlight goes on. Everything in the background fades out. There is a sweeping pan of my surroundings. La La Land replicates this feeling by actually doing it to the characters. It takes “being the hero of your own story” to a whole new level, in only a way a film can. By combining song, dance, acting, dialogue, camera angles, long takes, lighting, locations, and score, La La Land is an achievement in every meaning of the word.

Should I see it?

Absolutely. It’s a beautiful mix of many genres, so even if you aren’t a musical person, I think you would still enjoy it. The film is for the romantics, the cynics, and artists, the realists, and everyone in between.

It may not be the most thought-provoking or important of the films offered up this year. But its influence on film, particularly movie musicals, might be one of the most lasting, and the joy it conveys onscreen, along with the nuggets of truth and honesty, are too tempting to resist.

-Madeleine D


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