Friday, December 16, 2016

Awards Contenders In Brief: La La Land

So you may have noticed that I don't really do reviews on this blog. Which may have struck you as somewhat strange, given that this is a movie blog and all.

The simple fact of the matter is, writing a full review, for me, takes a LOT of time. I endlessly obsess over wording and details and getting things perfect. And in the end, I'd much rather spend that time WATCHING movies, especially since there are so many I haven't seen.

But I DO post short review-like things on my Letterboxd page, so read some of my past ones there. Going forward, I'm going to try to post those here, under this new "In Brief" label, so that I don't feel bound to write a full-length review.

So of course for the first of these, I'm going to pick a movie that I actually COULD write a full-length review of.

La La Land is, quite simply, my favorite film of the year. But let's be clear: Y'all know my nom de internet. And you'll know just from watching any of the trailers for this movie that have been released over the past couple of months that this movie was basically created in a lab specifically for me. So my naming it my favorite film of the year should come as absolutely come as no surprise, and should probably be taken with a grain of salt.

I really say all of this because I desperately don't want to oversell La La Land. It's fantastic, but it's also slight, and if you don't like movie musicals, this very likely won't be the one to change your mind - especially if you're immune to the charms of Emma Stone and/or Ryan Gosling (although, I personally don't understand how anyone could be, but I have been made to understand that somehow such people do exist).

I also desperately don't want to spoil this movie for anyone. Nothing else I experience for the rest of the year (I know it's only a couple of weeks but just go with me) will come close to matching the experience of seeing La La Land for the first time, so I want everyone else to enjoy it just as much as I did - by knowing nothing ahead of time except what the trailers told me.

So, here it goes: Gosling is Sebastian, a jazz pianist with dreams of opening his own jazz club. Stone is Mia, an aspiring actress working in a coffee shop on a studio lot. They meet and eventually fall in love. That's all I'm telling you of the plot. But the plot doesn't really matter. As with all the greatest movie musicals, what matters is the style with which the story is told, and La La Land is full to bursting with some of the greatest style of any movie released in quite some time. It pays homage to nearly every musical the Hollywood studio system ever produced, and takes direct inspiration from the single greatest movie musical ever made, Jacques Demy's The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. In so doing, it contains not one, not two, but three of the best single scenes of any film to be released in 2016, scenes of such bravura moviemaking magic that I actually applauded through tears in the theater.

Gosling and Stone have the chemistry of the greatest screen pairings - Hepburn & Tracy, Bogie & Bacall, Astaire & Rogers... to name a few - and that, along with their full-on charm offensive, is essential to making this movie work (it's almost impossible to imagine this working nearly as well with the original casting choices, Emma Watson and Miles Teller). It's a pleasure to watch them, because not only are they clearly enjoying themselves, not only do they make it look easy, but their faces are so open and honest that it's incredibly easy to feel for them. It's the kind of star power and chemistry that Old Hollywood used to cultivate with almost clockwork precision, but which has gone somewhat out of fashion nowadays. They also both have lovely, natural singing voices - they don't sound like professional singers, exactly, but the film is better off for it - and are wonderfully fluid dancers (bless Mandy Moore for her joyous choreography).

The score (music by Justin Hurwitz, lyrics by Benj Pasek & Justin Paul) is tuneful and romantic, with six original songs that you will be humming for weeks, and some lovely instrumental numbers. The film is as much about movie musicals as it is about anything else, so the music is very important. If I say that the film starts with its two weakest numbers, just know that they're still damn good, and each is shot so distinctively that it more than makes up for whatever the songs themselves are lacking.

I just... I have nothing bad to say about this film. Every single element works in perfect harmony together to create a perfect old-school movie experience. Everything about it has the look of one of the great MGM technicolor movie musicals, but it feels and sounds thoroughly modern. It is the perfect movie musical for the modern age - a perfect meeting of nostalgia with a contemporary sensibility. It is as much about the thrilling, transporting power of movie musicals as it is a perfect example of one, and as a lover of musicals, I couldn't possibly ask for anything more.

One week later, I'm still not over it. When my screening on opening night was over, I wanted to go straight to the box office and buy a ticket for the next available showing. I also wanted to go Monday after work, and also every day after that, because I just can't think of a better way to spend a little over two hours. And that's the highest praise I can give it.


  1. Great write up! I'm looking forward to seeing this. I'm afraid I'm going to have to wait an entire week after it comes out which is going to be awful. lol

  2. Oh, I so want to see this and I will! This is. Great review and makes me want to see it all the more.

  3. DAYAM!!!! Slay it in a review, buddy! I did see this again...took my daughter and she SWOONED SO HARD!!! It was awesome. I can't wait to cheer for an Oscar Best Picture winner again!