La La Land is an all-new, original musical from director Damien Chazelle (Whiplash) that is surprisingly low on melodrama while full of vibrancy, beautiful tunes, outstanding set pieces and a stunning sense of realism—that is, for a movie in which the characters bust out singing.
This is the best “original” movie musical ever made. I’d put it up there with Les Miserables, the best adapted movie musical I’ve ever seen. In short: This baby is a masterpiece, and a complete joy to watch.
The story follows wannabe actress Mia (Emma Stone) and jazz composer Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) as they try to make it in crazy Los Angeles. They meet and don’t like each other much at first, but then they fall in love, which provides Chazelle and his performers with ample opportunities for musical numbers that surprise at every turn.
In what will go down as one of the year’s greatest scenes, the film opens on an L.A. traffic jam that evolves into a full-blown dance number featuring top-notch editing and camera work that make the whole thing look like one shot. In a year when a lot of big blockbusters swung and missed, this relatively low-budget venture delivers some of 2016’s best money shots.
This solidifies Ryan Gosling as one of the best actors of his generation. He can wow you in insightful indies (Blue Valentine, Drive) and carry big-budget blockbusters (the upcoming Blade Runner 2049 … let’s hope it’s good). However, with La La Land, he’s taken his game to a new level. He proves he can pretty much do anything when it comes to movie characters. He can sing with the best of them; he’s definitely no slouch when it comes to dancing; and, by God, he sure can play the piano, after a few months of intensive training for the movie. (Those aren’t stunt hands playing the keys … those are his.) Just like that, Gosling is a full-bodied star of the musical genre.
As for his co-star, Emma Stone is a mind-blowing revelation. Her look is going to draw a lot of Ann-Margret comparisons here; she also boasts a similar comic/musical energy. Stone doesn’t just make her mark with a beautiful voice and expert footwork; she embodies her character with the honest and almost tragic drive to “make it” in the business. Mia feels like a real person rather than your typical movie-musical cardboard character.
Gosling came up in the same Mickey Mouse Club that touted Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake. Watch some of his Disney antics on YouTube—not only because they are hilarious, but also because they show the kid had music in him from the start. He also had an interesting music project a few years back called Dead Man’s Bones which showed off some serious musical chops.
As for Stone, the most I saw her do musically before this was sing Blues Traveler’s “Hook” during what was supposed to be a lip-synch contest on The Tonight Show. She kicked ass.
The past musical work by Gosling and Stone does not prepare you for what they do in this movie. They not only sing with full confidence; they dance in some killer numbers as if they’ve been doing this sort of thing for years. They have a sequence in which they rise into the ceiling of a planetarium that is pure movie magic. I know—that’s a cliché, but it’s the only real way to describe it.
The score is completely original, with memorable tracks like “City of Stars” and “Audition” which are sure to be in the running for Oscar glory. Heck, many aspects of this film are in the running for Oscar glory.
If you have a hatred for movie musicals, La La Land might be the movie that will warm you up to the genre. Gosling and Stone are one of the all-time best screen pairings, and this film is going to stand alongside the greats. Yes, it’s that good.
La La Land opens Thursday, Dec. 15, at the Century La Quinta and XD (46800 Washington St., La Quinta; 760-771-5682).