La La Land full movie review - "La La Land" is a wonderful and refreshing, but imperfect film.
In real life, most people don't randomly break out in song and dance, but the escapism of the big screen has been bringing Movie Fans musical feature films since the very first days of the sound motion picture.
Only the second film to win the Academy Award for Best Picture was a musical (1929's "The Broadway Melody"). Oversaturation in the marketplace and changing audience tastes led to the production of fewer musicals, but they never went away. Some of the best-loved musicals in film history (e.g. "Meet Me in St. Louis" and "Singin' in the Rain") came out in the 10-year span 1944-1953. But the ensuing decades each produced very popular musicals: "West Side Story", "The Sound of Music" and "Oliver!" (all Best Picture Oscar winners from the 1960s), "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory", "Grease" and "All That Jazz" (1970s), "Victor/Victoria", "Little Shop of Horrors" and "The Little Mermaid" (1980s), "Beauty and the Beast", "The Lion King" and "Evita" (1990s) and, in the early 2000s, "Moulin Rouge!", "Frozen", "Dreamgirls" and "Chicago", which became the first musical in 34 years to win Best Picture.
2016's "La La Land" (PG-13, 2:08) is the purest original (non-adapted) live action musical in many years, and has both the pedigree and the quality to duplicate the accomplishment of 2002's "Chicago". "La La Land" was written and directed by Damien Chazelle, who was the writer-director of 2014's "Whiplash", which earned him Oscar nods for his script and his film. This one is filled with original songs which are composed and orchestrated by Chazelle's previous collaborator, Justin Hurwitz, with lyrics by the award-winning musical theater team known as Pasek and Paul. Musician John Legend has a major role in the film and its stars, Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, are both past Oscar nominees who earlier appeared together in two other movies ? 2011's "Crazy, Stupid, Love" and 2013's "Gangster Squad". And, yes, they both sing and dance while telling this particular musical's story of romance, dreams and hope. It takes place in the present but feels like a throwback - like the most entertaining musicals of yesteryear.
The film's title has a dual meaning: (1) referring to people who live their lives in a seemingly unrealistic dream world and (2) the city of Los Angeles itself, where most of the action takes place. In fact, the film opens with a song-and-dance number with commuters stuck on a typically grid-locked L.A. highway. At the very end of that scene, aspiring actress Mia Dolan (Stone) has a random, brief and unpleasant encounter with struggling jazz keyboardist, Sebastian Wilder (Gosling), who acts like a real? pianist. The two run into each other again in Sebastian's jazz club, immediately after he's fired by the club owner (J.K. Simmons) for insisting on playing his own music. Sebastian is no more polite this time. The two finally "meet cute" and before long, Mia has left her roommates behind and moved in with Sebastian.
Neither life nor love go smoothly for this pair of stubborn dreamers, but they sure do try hard at both. Mia continues working as a barista on the Warner Bros. studio lot and going to frustrating audition after frustrating audition. Eventually, she decides that her best way forward is to write, finance and produce a one-woman show which, fittingly, focuses on her experiences of leaving her hometown in Nevada and moving to La La Land to pursue her dreams. After dropping the humorously humiliating job where Mia sees him at their third encounter, Sebastian continues to hold fast to his dream of opening his own jazz club, but doesn't really do much about it. He reluctantly takes a job on keys in a music group run by an old acquaintance (Legend), but doesn't enjoy it because they don't play his style of pure jazz. Sebastian's unhappiness turns to resentment and ends up being directed toward Mia, just as her show is about to open. The eventual resolution of their love story and their individual pursuit of their dreams feels right for a movie which celebrates dreamers, but shows what happens when life doesn't go as we've planned.
"La La Land" is a wonderful movie, but not, as some reviewers would lead you to believe, flawless. After three contentious encounters, the two main characters just suddenly fall in love, a development that isn't very well earned by the script or the acting. Otherwise, the performances are excellent (especially Stone's) and the script is funny, poignant and grounded? except for that whole thing about characters suddenly breaking into song. But when they do, those songs are both fun and touching. The dancing, however, seems to lack some of the energy and joy that you find in the older Hollywood musicals that inspired this film. Having said all that, I have to put these relatively minor criticisms into perspective: This is a very entertaining and affecting movie. You'll likely be emotionally invested in these characters, smile a lot ? and leave the theater wanting the soundtrack. For someone who wants more variety and positivity in today's films, this one is a gift. "A-"