Movie Review: ‘La La Land’

In love with the magic of Old Hollywood.

In love with the magic of Old Hollywood.

“La La Land” is as much a movie about movies as it is an exploration of a relationship, at least within the unique confines of a musical. That’s a tall order but back in the heyday of movie musicals, the best ones managed to strike a chord that rang true. Even today, if you’re in Hollywood working toward your big break, part of you has to believe in make believe. We all do. The best of the musicals of yesteryear intertwined a believable depiction of the everyday with the large-than-life. “La La Land” rises to that level.

Going in, I wasn’t sure if this was going to be a revamping of 1964’s “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg,” this time set in Los Angeles. By that, I mean that I was ready to hear every word of dialogue in song. That is not the case and I’m grateful. Maybe it would have worked but I cherish the moments the two leads have together. If two crazy kids aiming for the stars were ever meant for each other, it is Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) and Mia (Emma Stone). I keep coming back to how the movie evokes a believable day-to-day reality. The fact is that this has more references to past musicals than any casual observer, including myself, would likely spot.

Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) and Mia (Emma Stone)

Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) and Mia (Emma Stone)

Hollywood movie musicals used to be quite common, with a glorious run from 1929 to 1969, and occasional success ever since. With their unique capacity to fill the screen, a successful movie musical was easily a favorite pick for Best Picture come Oscar time. There have been some all-time greats that have done just that: 1951’s “An American in Paris,” 1965’s “The Sound of Music,” all the way to the most recent and last, 2002’s “Chicago.” Which brings us to “La La Land,” with its beautiful homage to that old Hollywood magic.

"La La Land," written and directed by Damien Chazelle

“La La Land,” written and directed by Damien Chazelle

“La La Land” wears its self-awareness well. Written and directed by Damien Chazelle, this musical provides that giddy feeling of uplift, a touch of irony, and a compelling contemporary narrative. These two star-crossed lovers don’t see stars for each other, at first. Aspiring actress Mia is too busy recovering from the latest humiliating audition. Aspiring jazz artist Sebastian is too busy trying to carve a place for himself with his idealism. It looks like boy will never meet girl and then they do meet and things get complicated as their relationship and dreams come into conflict. Interlaced within this story are songs to knock your songs off (music by Justin Hurwitz; lyrics by Damien Chazelle).

A special kind of fairy tale magic used to come more easily to Hollywood. The conflict between new and old is very much a theme here. Both Sebastian and Mia represent a standard of excellence that makes huge demands. The results are likely to be bittersweet. But when it looks like your dream will come true, then any hardship seems worth enduring. It’s a dream that may seem corny and unreal, but there are plenty of people in Hollywood right now that will attest to just how real it really is. Mia and Sebastian are wondrous, yet decidedly grounded, examples of contemporary, yet utterly timeless, star chasers. Sure, these characters were created from a runaway imagination filtered through some of the greatest musicals of the past. Ah, the stuff that dreams are made of!

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19 Comments

Filed under Academy Awards, Hollywood, Movie Reviews, movies, Musicals, Oscars

19 responses to “Movie Review: ‘La La Land’

  1. artemisdelmar

    I absolutely loved this movie and all the references to the heyday of the classic Hollywood musical.

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    • Damien Chazelle has a very interesting career so far. With “Whiplash,” and now “La La Land,” maybe he’ll do another movie about the artist struggle and have that stand as a trilogy. Who knows.

      Liked by 1 person

      • That’d be interesting. I wonder what perspective it would be. Whiplash is about hard work and sacrifice, while Lalaland is more about the fun of dreaming.

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      • Well, I think the characters in La La Land are hard-working dreamers! And they do regularly bump up against reality. I think there will be trilogy, maybe some other aspect of a man defiantly remaining faithful to his ideals. That’s what is mainly going on in Whiplash and La La Land.

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  2. Jay

    So good i look forward to rewatching today.

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  3. What a sweet and wonderful review. It didn’t reveal a thing! It was a fun and interesting film, full of hope and some sad parts included. Just like life, only music included. 🙂 Smiles, Robin

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  4. My daughter and I loved this flick!

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  5. Loved the movie! And what a great review, I particularly fell in love with the cinematography, music and dance numbers! There is a really good video about all of the classic musical references, I’m going to link it here just in case you want to check it out! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UZkEjPB6A

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  6. Nice review. With all the references and tributes to the old Hollywood and its musicals, I still think that La La Land stands on its own two feet and does its own thing. It was never there to compete with the old musicals in the first place, and that’s why I also loved it.

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    • I totally agree that it has its own vibe. That said, the writer/director makes numerous, and strategic, references to musicals of the past. Nothing wrong with that. Hey, it works for me–and apparently for a whole lot of other people too!

      Liked by 1 person

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