La La Land (2016)

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Everyone is talking about this movie. Everyone is trying to see this movie. It’s the musical sensation that is sweeping the nation. I tried to see this movie several of times before I actually got in to a sold-out showtime. When we left the theater, there was a line at the door of people waiting to get into the next one. This movie is capturing the hearts and minds of movie audiences unlike any non-Star Wars movie that’s come out in my lifetime. So what is it about this movie that is so… wonderful?

The short answer is- not everything. I did not fall immediately in love with La La Land, the musical romance directed by Damien Chazelle. To be completely honest, during most of the first act I was a little bit concerned that I was going to be one of the outliers to not lose my marbles over this film. But at some point- and I don’t even know at which point this was- I was hypnotized. At some point I just fell, utterly and completely, into the story and the characters, and completely without noticing.  The film, starring Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, is a delightful adventure through a strange, uncynical version of Los Angeles. The movie speaks to modern sensibilities while calling back to the classical form of movie musicals. It brings something very, very old to the table and makes us ask ourselves, why can’t it be new again?

I’m sure there isn’t much I can say about this film that hasn’t already been said. I can go on and on and on about Emma Stone’s performance. The life that she brings to Mia, the struggling actress that she portrays, is quite unlike any other performance I’ve seen. She blends emotions that I’ve never seen combined, plays her role with vulnerability and passion and excitement. This is a stellar performance from Stone, proving (if there was anyone left with any doubts about her talent) that she belongs on the screen. I can talk about how wonderful it was to see Ryan Gosling put his crooning, casual voice to work telling his lovesick story as an aspiring jazz musician. I can sing the praises of the wonderful songs and score, composed by Justin Hurwitz, that provide the backbone of the story. These three elements, essentially the three main characters of the story, are complete expressions of youth, dreams, and real, true love, the core themes and subjects of La La Land.

Many of the musicals that are being produced today qualify as musicals because the characters break into spontaneous song. But dancing is a magical cinematic expression that was, for some crazy reason, abandoned in the Golden Age. I’ve never seen characters truly use dance to express their emotions and force the audience to suspend their disbelief, like the characters do in “Another Day of Sun” or “A Lovely Night.” And I’ve never, never, ever experienced something quite like the final montage of this film, a love letter to dance through dance, the perfect ending that this film deserves. There are truly not words to describe it, because it is only about movement, dance, and wordless expression of emotion. It is also incredible that the ending doesn’t feel like a gimmick- some final homage to inspirations An American in Paris (1951) and The Young Girls of Rochefort (1967)

I loved this film, that’s for sure, but I do want to say: don’t go into this film worrying that it won’t “live up to the hype.” How your experience with the film measures up to those who have seen it before you doesn’t have to be what’s going through your mind while Mia and Sebastian go on their first “date” to a Jazz Club, or have their big (and incredibly authentic) fight over a home cooked meal. The only thing you should have in your head while watching this film is just that-this film. Let yourself fall into it. Give it some of your trust and suspend some of your disbelief. You’ll, more likely than not, get something truly magical out of the experience.

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