The story of Mia (Emma Stone), an aspiring actress, and Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), a dedicated jazz musician, struggling to make ends meet while pursuing their dreams in a city known for destroying hopes and breaking hearts. With modern day Los Angeles as the backdrop, this musical about everyday life explores what is more important, a once in a lifetime love or the spotlight.
Funny how things work sometimes, La La Land gets six Golden Globe nominations today and then I get to see it later that same evening. I’m not the biggest fan of musicals but I’m glad I did (to me, great stories and acting are more important than genres). It is one of the most buzz-worthy films this year and after seeing it, the buzz is definitely justified. Take Damien Chazelle, the director from one of my favorite films of 2014 in Whiplash, and add Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone and the film has a very strong chance of success.
Mia and Sebastian are two aspiring artists trying to achieve their dreams. Mia wants to be a successful actress and Sebastian, a jazz pianist, wants to continue the legacy of jazz and open his own club. They first meet under the most special circumstances and all their subsequent meetings implied that maybe they were both destined to be with one another. Of course they didn’t start off that way but them getting together was inevitable.
Early on, the film feels like a love letter to Los Angeles and classic hollywood films and musicals. The film’s overall style, including the set design, costumes, and cinematography as well as the fantastic score were all reminiscent of the golden age of film. This was a remarkable feat considering that the film takes place in the present. The musical numbers were well done and full of good energy. Unlike most musicals where people randomly sing in some contrived way, the musical numbers here weaved organically within the story and were not out of place (the first one seemed out of context but it did set the tone nicely).
The musical numbers were visual spectacles, heightened by the film’s style and cinematography. They were spectacles but they never came off as overdone. They were all expertly shot, featuring boatloads of color and entertaining choreography. The film was much more than just musical numbers, however, they were fun to watch (and listen to) but they were secondary to telling Sebastian and Mia’s story.
Sebastian and Mia’s story was compelling to watch as they were both real, genuine people and it was easy to relate to their own personal struggles. Sebastian is a jazz traditionalist, wanting to keep it alive. Despite the constant pleas from his sister Laura (Rosemarie DeWitt) to find a real job, Sebastian is set on taking his own path. Mia is a struggling actress, going from audition to audition, resulting in a lack of confidence. Over time, the two become closer as they help each other with their struggles.
Sebastian and Mia’s relationship was genuine and they were fun to watch together as their relationship grew. This was a beautiful film and served as the perfect backdrop for Sebastian and Mia with a sequence at a conservatory being the standout. Like most relationships, they had their ups and downs. Sebastian and Mia were ambitious people and sometimes their own ambitions got in the way. Because of this, they were eventually forced to choose between their relationship and their dreams. They ultimately loved each other but also wanted what was best for each other, ending in an extraordinary musical sequence.
What more can be said about Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone? The already had great chemistry with one another and they simply brought it over to this film. The film would not have worked as well if it were any two other actors since their chemistry carried the film and elevated the already excellent script. It was grounded and hit all the right notes. It was funny at times, romantic, and sentimental but not overly sentimental. Gosling and Stone are definitely talented actors. Gosling can sing, dance, and play the piano while Stone can sing (especially in “Audition”, a song that should have also been nominated). But first and foremost, they can act. Gosling exudes charm and looks comfortable as Sebastian. Stone is even better as Mia, exuding charm of her own while bringing out the depth and the emotion of her character, beaten down by failed auditions but maintaining her ambition.
Overall, musical or not, this was an experience like no other. This was a love letter to the golden age of cinema, featuring memorable music and visuals, and carried by the amazing performances of Gosling and Stone.
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