La La Land – Movie Review

This past Sunday evening, I was about to head out to the store to get groceries to make my wife’s favorite dinner for Mother’s Day when I asked her if there were any movies that had come out recently that she might be interested in seeing.  After thinking on it for a minute she replied “La La Land”. Awesome! I’d actually been wanting to see it for a while so I was more than happy to feed the Redbox $2 for a Blu-Ray rental and make my wife’s Mother’s Day just that much better.  The only downside being that I took our three year old daughter with me to the store and she asked to rent “Monster Trucks” soooooooo there’s that…. (Side Note:  “Monster Trucks” wasn’t awful and my kid actually liked it and watched it twice before we took it back.  Of the parts that I paid attention to [I was cooking the aforementioned dinner], there was one scene that genuinely made me laugh.)

Like I said, I’d been wanting to see “La La Land” since before it was the talk of this year’s Oscars for all the wrong reasons but, because of all the hype and the Oscars fiasco, I waited a bit to see it. Sometimes too much hype around a movie can spoil it when you actually get to see it.  I don’t want to say that’s what happened for me when I finally got to see it, but I’m not sure “La La Land” is all it was made out to be during awards season.

la la land

“La La Land” follows an aspiring actress, played by Emma Stone, as she tries to make it in Hollywood and a struggling jazz pianist, played by Ryan Gosling, as he tries to open up his own jazz club all while trying to make their relationship work.  If that story sounds a little bland and familiar, thats because it is.  It’s really nothing new or ground breaking plot wise but it’s what the actors do with their roles and what director Damien Chazelle does with the story that makes this film better than its familiar premise.

Stone and Gosling both sink into their respective roles and you really feel like the are real people versus just characters in a movie.  I will say that I think Stone gave a better acting performance, hence why she won the Oscar for Best Actress, but I think she her character had a little bit more to grab on to as an actor and had a little bit more to do in the movie over all.

With that said though, what Gosling did to prepare for this role is just as impressive as his on screen work. According to the trivia section on IMDB.com, Gosling spent two hours a day, six days a week taking piano lessons so he could learn all the original music by heart, to the point of being able to simulate performing all of the pieces on screen without the aid of CGI effects or camera tricks. As a musician myself, that is incredibly impressive.  While something like that may be lost on the average movie goer, it is well worth mentioning here and well worth giving it consideration when looking at this movie as a whole.

The cinematography, set design, and choreography also elevate this film.  The opening musical number on the gridlocked highway is a rather astounding piece of film making. There were a number of shots in this film where the cinematography and shot set up are simply brilliant, namely the apartment scene where Stone’s roommates are trying to convince her to go out to a party (which appeared to be a one take shot) and then the big dance number on the hill overlooking the Los Angeles skyline (again a one take shot).

Since “La La Land” is a musical, this wouldn’t be a full review without touching on the music. Composer Justin Hurwitz’s score and original music, while good, haven’t really stuck with me over the few days since I’ve seen it.  I, unfortunately, don’t have any one particular song stuck, rattling around in my head.  I can remember one line from “City of Stars” but that’s about it.  The most impactful music in the film has to be the jazz songs sprinkled throughout and, while I don’t remember any specific ones, it was the performance of them on screen that really resonated with me. With all the being said though, I have only seen the movie once.  I’m sure if I downloaded the soundtrack or watched the movie a few more times, the music would stick with me more but at first blush, nothing hooked me.

Without giving too much away, I did really enjoy the ending of this film.  It takes a somewhat unexpected turn but it really delivers on it’s choice in a way that I didn’t see coming.  I think it made a bold choice that most romance movies shy away from and it saw it through to the end and even saw fit to give us a rather beautiful and striking montage of what past events could have been.

In the end, I think I wanted to like “La La Land” more than I actually did and some of the blame for that can be placed on the insane hype machine around this movie and the…. occurrence at the Oscars.  For me, “La La Land” is a mediocre story elevated by some spectacular dance numbers, beautiful cinematography, and solid if not amazing performances.

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SEE YOU AT THE CINEMA!