I was admittedly very skeptical of La La Land walking in. On the surface a Ryan Gosling & Emma Stone vehicle written and directed by Damien Chazelle (director of Whiplash, arguably the best drama of the past 5 years) seemed like a no brainer. But then you learn that it’s a musical. Wait, they must mean a musical like Walk The Line or Straight Outta Compton have a lot of music in them, right? No it’s an actual singing in the streets, the hills are alive, shoot me in the face, musical. Fuck. What a waste. It’s like coming across a Bumble profile in which the first five photos portray a fit, good looking, seemingly personable human being, only to end it with one last photo of them sporting a Make America Great Again hat. I realize it’s slightly immature to be this nauseated by song and dance, but everyone has his or her least favorite genre. My Mom could do without space movies, my brother refuses to watch anything with Russell Crowe, Dad pretty much avoids anything where “feelings” are involved, and I hate musicals….. or so I thought.
La La Land is so undeniably pleasant, so undeniably charming, and in a year where the most acclaimed films have also been downers, it’s the shot of serotonin that we need right now. An underrated thing about Stone and Gosling playing romantic counterparts for the third time is that this is actually the first time they are front and center. You may remember #Stosling so fondly from Gangster Squad and Crazy, Stupid, Love, but as part of ensemble casts they could only do so much to lift up otherwise pretty mediocre films. In La La Land however, Chazelle uses the two as if they were Stockton and Malone in Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals, and they deliver in incredible fashion! Stone in particular sings her heart out and Gosling has improved considerably since this classic scene from 2010’s Blue Valentine.
A few other random things I really liked about this movie:
- The many long takes (a shot lasting much longer than the conventional editing pace, think Rust Cohle storming that drug house all in one shot in True Detective Season 1). I LOVE long takes. They’re a director’s equivalent to a two on one fast break alley oop-off the backboard.
- JK Simmons cameo. Not my tempo!
- The fact that Miles Teller didn’t star. Teller was originally slated for the role of Sebastian but was replaced late in the game by Gosling (its unconfirmed whether Teller backed out over money or if he was just all together dropped when Gosling became available). I’m a fan of Teller but when you can upgrade from Harrison Barnes to Kevin Durant, you make that move every time.
- The use of various LA locales that I frequented once upon a time, including the Warner Bros. backlot where I used to work and The Lighthouse Cafe on the Hermosa Beach pier. They make The Lighthouse appear to be a hip Jazz bar (shown below), but I swear the last time I was in there a cover band was playing Eddie Money. Tier 1 – RATED GREG