Review: La La Land

"It's conflict and its compromise. It's very, very exciting..."

I would consider myself a fan of musicals. I’m a huge Rocky Horror fan, loved Hairspray, still sing along to Sweeny Todd and one of my favorite holiday films is Irving Berlin’s White Christmas.  That being said, I was excited to go and see a movie that claimed to be a throwback to the classical Hollywood musicals of yester year. La La Land has been capturing the hearts of critics the world over and even racking up some awards at international film festivals and I was admittedly curious to find out what all the hype was about.

La La Land is a story that takes us through a year in the life of two talented young people as they struggle to make a name for themselves in a town where actors and musicians are a dime a dozen and everybody is waiting for their next big break.  Stone plays Mia, a young aspiring actress currently spending her days as a barista in a coffee shop on the studio lot, and her afternoon and nights pounding the audition pavement with no real luck.  Gosling shines as a Jazz purist and brilliant pianist, Sebastian, who is struggling to find the balance between making a decent living and playing music he is proud of.

The two meet when Mia hears him playing an original piece despite his boss’ demands to stick to the preset Christmas themed playlist.  He is quickly fired and blows past the stunning redhead whose attention he captured with his talent, not giving her a second thought until their paths cross again at a party that finds him playing keyboard in a crappy cover band. They trade playful jabs at one another and it’s not long before it’s clear there is chemistry and Sebastian proceeds to pursue her.

Of course, the struggle of realizing your dreams takes its toll and while Sebastian compromises his thoughts on pure jazz to take a lucrative position with a touring band, Mia is struggling to produce a one woman play.  The imbalance of success and support puts undue pressure on the new, young couple and after a lackluster opening of her play that Sebastian doesn’t show up to until long after it’s over, the damage is done and Mia heads home to reevaluate her goals and aspirations.

However her homecoming is short lived after Sebastian receives word that a prominent casting director saw the play and is requesting Mia come in for an audition.  He convinces her to go for it and prods her to take the job despite it involving a move to Paris, knowing he will be staying behind in LA to follow Mia’s advice, leave a band he doesn’t believe in 100%, and follow his dream of opening his own jazz club.

The whole story is full of dreams, hopes, aspirations, support, and the kind of old school romance you don’t find in many new films.

While there are moments of predictability and the story itself isn’t the most original, it’s made endearing and charming by Stone and Gosling’s ability to play such passionate characters.  The settings also provide a lush, studio era look with bright, bold primary colors, and 1950’s style artwork and advertisements making their way into the background where appropriate. It gives the movie an overall clean and simple feel and allows you to sit back and enjoy the performances and the music as well.

Speaking of the music, this film did a great job of balancing the musical numbers with dance numbers and just story pushing dialogue.  It opens with a great large scale number made up of the many occupants of a typical LA traffic jam but we don’t see many full company style performances throughout the movie. It mainly focuses on Gosling and Stone and the songs are used more so to hit home the emotion or feeling of a scene.

No catchy show tunes here, however the original melody that lures Mia into the club that night is the common denominator through the film and plays like the couples theme song. In fact the final number revolves around this tune showing its diversity by being present during times of hopeful romance, longing, eagerness, and even regret.  It is quite simply, the melody of love and it’s quite beautiful and haunting.

Now at this point you might be surprised to hear me say that I generally liked the movie but something just seemed a bit off to me.  It somehow felt a bit flat. Not that it didn’t have bright and beautiful setting and background plus the main tune was definitely touching however, the rest of the music was just…there. It didn’t venture much from its basic harmonies and a lot of the original songs sounded very similar. I definitely liked the actual jazz music you hear in certain scenes and the background music playing on vinyl from some of the greatest jazz musicians of our time, had more life to it.

Like I said, nothing so catchy that I left the theater singing the way I did after seeing other musicals.  However, the music isn’t awful either so it doesn’t ruin the film but for me, it just could’ve been better. I love a movie, whether it’s a musical or not, that has me immediately trying to download the soundtrack or throw on some comfy pajamas, watch it in my living room, and sing along at the top of my lungs. This didn’t do that for me.

That being said, it was a great movie.  Beautifully shot, well-acted, and hopelessly romantic in that old school Hollywood kind of way.  While some of the song and dance numbers could leave a nonmusical fan squirming in their seats, they do not overpower the movie and there is enough non-musical dialogue and interesting moments to keep you entertained.

So while it may not have inspired me to leave the theater singing, it certainly left me swooning over the romance and chemistry between two of the industry’s finest young actors.  I encourage you to check it out and see what the hype is for yourself. I don’t think you will be disappointed and at the very least, it is a visual treat.

Heather Fox, is an aspiring cook and artist in her free time. By day she teaches Literacy for the Boys&Girls Club of Philadelphia and by night she dons the role of foXXXy contin, hard hitting blocker for South Jersey Roller Derby. This native Philadelphian and self-proclaimed Geek Girl, resides in Port Richmond where she continues to feed her love of pop culture with all things horror, comic book, and Star Wars related.

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