Movie Review: La La Land

By Matthew Huntley

January 4, 2017

Is *that* what we look like on the big screen?

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The film is wonderfully romantic, fun and captivating as it follows Mia and Sebastian's blossoming and eventually tumultuous relationship through the four seasons of a year, but perhaps what's most enduring and surprising about it is how genuine their respective experiences in the film and music industries come across. This must stem from the fact that Chazelle himself is a young artist and it's clear his screenplay draws from his own personal experiences when it comes to the pain, frustration and financial hardships Mia and Sebastian must weather in order to achieve their hopes and dreams in show business. Their hurdles never seem exaggerated, right down to Mia's auditions and her attempting to put on a one-woman show, as well as Sebastian trying to convince himself that touring with a jazz band led by his former cohort (John Legend) is something he actually wants. We sense each character's anguish, both as career people and as one half of a couple struggling to find common ground. That brings up another surprise about La La Land: the outcome of Mia's, Sebastian's, and then Mia & Sebastian's, stories are never certain. How things wrap up - happy, sad or open-ended - I leave for you to discover.

And discover you should, because La La Land is alive and magical, deep and true. It's exceptionally produced and enormously entertaining, with not one scene where the energy isn't busting. If I had to criticize it, I'd mention that Emma Stone is probably better suited for the fantasy and Gosling the drama but that neither actor is one hundred percent right for both. Stone seems confined to the make-believe cloud upon which Mia floats, while Gosling doesn't seem like he's ever able rise to it with the same enthusiasm and conviction. His singing and dancing, in particular, feel unnatural.


I suppose one could argue this works in the film's favor and mirrors the characters’ respective natures, thus balancing things out, but when Stone tried to be dramatic or Gosling tried to perform, I was too aware of what they were doing and I ended up seeing the actors on-screen instead of their characters, which proved somewhat distracting. There's little doubt both leads will get an Oscar nomination, but to say they should win is a bit of a stretch.

Nevertheless, La La Land reminded me why musicals used to thrive. When they're done right, as this one is, they can be entertaining on so many levels: from their drama, comedy, and romance, to their music, songs and dancing. Of course, by taking on so much, they also run the risk of becoming overwrought and turning into an unfulfilling mess (Hello, Dolly!), but La La Land practices moderation and finds balance. It focuses first on its essential human story, which is about our inherent desire to feel special among our peers and to the person we love, and then on its music, dancing and technical presentation. The former makes it great; the latter make it greater.

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