Movie Review – “La La Land” (2016)

I have noticed most people have two basic reactions to musicals – They either love them and are saddened that there are not enough of them, or groan in frustration because musicals are so boring. When I went to see the latest musical, “La La Land,” one kid, probably around 14 or 15, was laying on a bench outside the theater and waited until the last minute to go inside, and did so stomping his feet in frustration. He clearly did not want to be there.

Why is this one of the general reactions to musicals? Why are there people who roll their eyes at song and dance numbers? It might explain why musicals are so scarce and why they seem to be a dying artform. As someone who previously hated the concept of musicals, this hatred towards them probably comes from a lack of action or reason to care about the music. When films like “Moulin Rouge!” did their musical numbers, the film would come a screeching hault and the plot did not seem to matter anymore.

But another reason could be that musicals are not grounded in reality. Who breaks out into song when they are happy or sad? What kind of person can come up with an impromptu musical number with nothing more than their wit and emotions?

 

 

I felt that is what made musicals so unappealing for a long time, with the only exception being “Singin’ In the Rain.” Then I realized what made that Gene Kelley movie so admirable and so much fun – because it was not grounded in reality, just history. The appeal of the musical is they are not supposed to be about how people really act, but a visual display of individuals raw and uncut emotions using song and dance. Those who say musicals lack action are missing the point, the elaborate sequences using thousands of people and moving parts is the action.

Musicals are beautiful pieces of art that speak their minds through choreography, vibrant colors and long takes.

And I would love to thank “La La Land” for making me realize all this.

“La La Land” is the most whimsical film experience of 2016 that doesn’t pull any punches. It balances a harsh reality and playful nature perfectly. It shows the lives of people who moved to Los Angeles with bigger than life dreams, attempting to conquer the world in their own way, but ultimately realize this world is unforgiving and full of too much talent.

Set in modern day L.A., Mia Dolan (Emma Stone) is an aspiring actress working at a coffee shop on the Warner Brothers lot, and is constantly turned down from audition after audition. But when Mia has a chance encounter with struggling pianist Sebastian Wilder (Ryan Gosling), the two form an immediate connection, and try their best to help each other, Mia with getting her acting noticed, and Sebastian to get his jazz career off the ground.

 

 

From the first few moments of “La La Land,” I was entranced by the surreal combination of reality and fantasy, as hundreds of people stuck on an L.A. freeway break out into song and dance around like they don’t care about anything else. There are people breakdancing on top of their cars, skating down this long road and a band playing inside of a truck. But the best part is that it is all done in one continuous take, uncut by editing so we can appreciate every single person on this bridge, even the ones you can see dancing a mile down the road.

There’s another long take sequence between Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling as they tap dance with increasing vigor and excitement, like something right out of a Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers film. In fact, there’s many neat touches to older musicals, with the Cinemascope introduction to a fantasy sequence later in the film reminiscent of Broadway Melody from “Singin’ In the Rain.”

 

 

Yet the film is unapologetic when it comes to the harsh reality of trying to make in Hollywood. Thousands of people flock to L.A. every year to become famous in one way or another, but it ultimately leads down a long and disappointing road, as Mia and Sebastian learn throughout the film. This leads to best song in the film, “City of Stars,” with its melancholy lyrics and pitch-perfect tone from Ryan Gosling.

Overall, everyone should go see “La La Land” because it is the reason films are made. A story that can only be told through cinema, while giving us a reason to love musicals again. Don’t wait for this to come out on DVD either, this is a grand experience that needs to be seen on the big screen. This is the most personal yet elaborate movie of the year and you don’t want to miss it.

Final Grade: A

 

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