Even more original and ambitious than it looked in the trailers, La La Land is a mixture of nostalgic musical numbers and compelling drama. While its leads have fantastic chemistry and the story draws us in, the song and dance numbers are occasionally jarring, landing the film at 3.5 out of 5.
Aspiring actress Mia (Emma Stone) and jazz musician Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) are trying to live the dream in Los Angeles among a sea of other wannabes. Once their paths converge and the spark of a new relationship begins to grow, their small personal setbacks seem less overwhelming. But as opportunities arise for both, each has to face his or her own set of compromises, dreams, and limitations.
La La Land is both a blast of nostalgia and wave of fresh newness, and that blend makes it a fascinating ride. Both leads are pining for a lost golden age (old Hollywood and old jazz, respectively) and the film mirrors this by hearkening to vintage musicals and films through its dance, music, vocal style, costumes and even plot elements. Gosling and Stone are captivating and funny - and easy on the ears when they sing. The simple through-line of their romance (courtship, love, conflict, resolution) feels true, is fun to watch, and really makes you think. Perhaps it goes without saying, coming from writer/director Damien Chazelle of Whiplash fame, but the jazz in the film is striking and the moments with Gosling at the piano are definite high points.
The film opens weak, growing stronger as it goes; some might even say it becomes a different animal entirely. The opening minutes weave characters in and out of song and dance like a proper musical, and those are by far the least compelling and even most uncomfortable moments in the film. This is due In part to inherent differences in live and filmed entertainment; many crucial elements of stage musicals don't translate well to film. But truthfully, much of it was due to Stone and Gosling lacking the technical finesse that made the singing-dancing greats of yesteryear so magical. Stone is a brilliant actress and has a lovely voice, but there's a reason directors used to cast Ginger Rogers when their films included tap dancing numbers.
Christian Worldview Elements / Spiritual Themes
The main worldview discussion the film tackles is that of dreams and goals, but generally, without passing judgment on the choices of its characters. How important is a dream? How can we balance our own dreams with reality, or the dreams of others? What do dreams matter, in the end, if we have nobody to share life with? Are there some dreams we can only accomplish with another person - or perhaps only by ourselves?
CAUTIONS (may contain spoilers)
- MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some language
- Language/Profanity: One F-word, a few instances of other profanity such as "hell," "godd--n" and "as----le."
- Sexuality/Nudity: A couple kisses frequently. No sex is shown or implied, but a couple moves in together and is seen sharing a bed/sleeping together at points. Folks are seen in swimsuits at a pool party.
- Violence/Frightening/Intense: None.
Drugs/Alcohol: Characters are shown pouring and/or drinking alcohol in a few scenes.
The Bottom Line
RECOMMENDED FOR: A date night. Those who enjoy musicals and/or jazz. Fans of Emma Stone/Ryan Gosling films (the duo has previously teamed up for Crazy, Stupid, Love and Gangster Squad). Cinephiles who want to stay on top of Oscar buzz and ambitious, unique projects.
NOT RECOMMENDED FOR: Folks who can't get into musicals. Those wanting a more comfortable, traditionally structured film. People who prefer the full, open singing style of live theatre and tend to dislike film adaptations of plays (e.g. Mamma Mia, Phantom of the Opera).
La La Land, directed by Damien Chazelle, opened in limited theaters December 9, 2016; available for home viewing April 25, 2017. It runs 128 minutes and stars Emma Stone, Ryan Gosling, JK Simmons, John Legend, Finn Wittrock and Rosemarie DeWitt. Watch the trailer for La La Land here.
Debbie Holloway is a storyteller, creator, critic and advocate having adventures in Brooklyn, New York.
Publication date: December 9, 2016