La La Land (2016) Review: No School Like The Old
With 14 Academy Award nominations to its name, it’s hard not to walk into ‘La La Land’ affected by the hype. That hasn’t happened since Jack and Rose sailed the ocean. To Celine Dion no less. La La Land also features a love story between a red headed woman and a dirty blond man. Although this movie has a little more singing than ‘Titanic’. Impertinent perceptions aside, it’s still almost impossible to review a movie which is already being lauded as the very best of last year.
Yet, this is a review for La La Land. A movie which makes no apologies for what it is. A musical. Within the first 5 minutes of the film, ‘La La Land’ explodes into the first of many heavily choreographed song and dance numbers. I was technically impressed by these scenes. Marveled at them. I was also wholly bored by them. Sure I appreciated how much work it took to film. Especially when La La Land uses so many moving steady shots to showcase its performances. Still, I remained unmoved.
It wasn’t until about 20 minutes in that I could see what people had been talking about. Something about Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling tap dancing won me over to the point where the film had me grinning from ear to ear as it went on. Those stars play the lead roles in this film. He’s a musician. She’s an actress. After the film pairs them up and kick starts their love story, the investment I was searching for just fell into place.
‘La La Land’ has a very well done romance story. At times, you’ll be able to tell exactly where it’s going. The other times you won’t care about that. You’ll be too busy being swept up in the emotion of the characters. Hard not to when Ryan Gosling literally sweeps Emma Stone off her feet. The other love story is for the past, with its classical style reflected in its old soul characters. It’s very hard not to feel the chemistry between the two, but at this point, if the co-stars didn’t have chemistry, they should just quit acting altogether.
There are so many references to classic films and jazz musicians. Clearly, Damian Chazelle’s love for the arts has continued from his work in ‘Whiplash’. But whereas ‘Whiplash’ was a deconstruction of that love, ‘La La Land’ is a celebration of it. The film wants to be a traditional musical. It knows the old days aren’t coming back, but it still wants to hold on just a little bit longer.
The singing voices in ‘La La Land’ aren’t the strongest. Then again, I’ve never been blown away by strong vocal talent, so that wasn’t an issue for me. I suppose the movie worked because it appealed to so much of what I look for. The set pieces are filmed with whimsical gravitas, with such dynamic energy, it feels as though the camera has a life of its own. It’s the exact opposite of the rigidity Chazelle displayed in ‘Whiplash.
When I wasn’t charmed by the characters, I was transported by the film’s playfulness. The camera bobs and weaves around like a jazz instrument. It’s not content to simply film the content, it has to react to it as well. ‘La La Land’ is one of those movies that is relentlessly good. I highly recommend it. It just might be one of the greatest of all time.