La La Land is a modern classic

La La Land is a modern classic

“This is the dream! It’s conflict, and it’s compromise. It’s very, very exciting!”

This post will contain spoilers.

So, that was La La Land. I just got back from a screening of the film. When I’m excited about something, I can almost visualize the words running around in my head, and I feel like I need to get them out in a review. It’s close to midnight, and yet, here I sit writing when I have to be up in a few hours.

La La Land is something that I’ve been looking forward to for several years, and how could I not? Ryan Gosling has been one of my favorite male actors for quite some time (Drive, Crazy, Stupid, Love, Blue Valentine, Lars and the Real Girl, etc), and Emma Stone is.. well, Emma Stone. She’s a phenomenal actress. These two had great chemistry in Crazy, Stupid, Love, and I was excited to see them paired together once more.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, La La Land is the film that’s set to sweep the Oscars, and for good reason. It’s a musical that feels just like a throwback to an era of Hollywood that has been lost for decades, but it’s set in modern times.

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To give a (very) brief rundown of the plot – the film stars Mia (Stone) and Sebastian (Gosling) and shows how their lives intertwine over the course of a year. Mia is an aspiring actress working at a coffee shop on the Warner Bros. lot, and Gosling is a struggling musician with a passion for old school jazz. He’s been relegated to working at a restaurant managed by the stellar J.K. Simmons. After Mia’s car gets towed, she stumbles into the restaurant. Sebastian is fired for refusing to play solely Christmas music, firmly believing that the restaurant’s patrons won’t notice if he plays something original.

They cross paths again at a party. Mia’s a guest, Sebastian’s in a cover band playing the keyboard. She requests “I Ran” by Flock of Seagulls, and it’s worth the price of admission to see the dance that she does while lip syncing. It’s here that the story of Mia and Sebastian starts to take off, and I’m not going to spoil much in that regard, because I really don’t want to give away the entire movie. I want to focus on other aspects.

The first thing that people are talking about, and for good reason, is the music. The songs are completely original, composed by Justin Hurwitz (Whiplash). All the piano playing in the film is done by Gosling, who learned how to play for this role. John Legend also learned how to play the guitar for this film. The songs are catchy, and the choreography, done by Mandy Moore, is original and fun to watch. Every single song is stuck in my head, which is really annoying, since the soundtrack doesn’t release until Friday.

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Another thing that I wanted to discuss is the visual element to this film. Every scene pops. Every single piece of clothing, wall, painting, every dimly lit restaurant, every reflection – everything is so carefully done here, and it shows. Each scene is kind of like.. do you remember those books you had when you were a kid that had the pop-up buildings? It blew your mind, didn’t it? That’s kind of how I felt for the majority of this movie. Every single scene was carefully framed, and it made the film that much more memorable.

The film itself is very self-referential. I opened this article with the conflict and compromise line, which is kind of a central theme running through La La Land. When Keith (John Legend) talks to Sebastian, he asks him how he’s going to be like those of the past and revolutionize Jazz, because the old style of Jazz is dying (conflict). He joins Keith’s band, which puts a unique twist on Jazz to reach a broader audience (compromise). All Sebastian wants to do is honor traditional Jazz and open up his own club so he can play traditional Jazz, but doubts that he’d be able to attract an audience. Meanwhile, Mia struggles with auditions (conflict) and chooses to write her own play to avoid having to deal with the anxiety from auditioning (compromise).

Gosling’s Sebastian doesn’t stray too far from the usual character Gosling plays, a down-to-earth guy with a love for sarcasm (one of my favorite lines in the film is when Mia’s unable to find her car and Sebastian tells her to hold the keyfob to her chin – “It’ll turn your head into an antenna, and you’ll probably get cancer, but you’ll find your car faster. It’s an even trade-off”). Mia’s a shy woman who has her hopes and dreams set on making it big but is full of self doubt due to a string of poor auditions.

I can’t really say enough about La La Land. I’d seen the hype, and I knew it’d be pretty good, but man. There wasn’t a bad song in the entire film. My biggest apprehension when seeing a musical is the music-to-spoken word ratio, and La La Land, to me, surprisingly leaned more toward spoken word, which I actually prefer, in roughly a 60/40 ratio.

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You should really go see La La Land when it opens nationwide on Christmas Day (it has a limited release in LA and New York on December 9th, the same day that the soundtrack releases). It’s original, charming, vibrant, and inspiring. It’s simultaneously a love letter to Los Angeles, to those that have a dream in their heart, and to Jazz music. I can’t possibly give this film anything but my highest recommendation, and I’m looking forward to buying the soundtrack to listen to everything again, and you can bet that I’ll be going back to the theater to see this one.

DISCLAIMER: I was invited to a private screening of La La Land prior to the film’s limited release.

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