Movie Review: The Ultimate Love Letter in La La Land

Movie Review for the excellent new movie musical epic LA LA LAND, opening in Oakville theatres December 25th 2016.
Movie Review: The Ultimate Love Letter in La La Land
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About the Author

Tyler Collins

Tyler Collins

Tyler Collins is a thespian and performer who has worked with theatre, film, and TV across Ontario. He comes from Campbellton, NB, and has lived in North Oakville nearly 20 years. Currently, he studies Journalism at Sheridan College. Twitter: @MrTyCollins

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Colourful, classical, and wonderfully enchanting, La La Land evokes an era of Hollywood charm noticeably absent in the 21st century. It’s an excellent movie, and a pleasant, emotionally striking experience at the theatre as we conclude (an arguably dreary) 2016.

A landslide victory at TIFF for the audience choice award, La La Land is the likely winner for Best Picture at the Academy Awards in February. There’s a good chance you’ll be romanced by it too, based on your tolerance and craving for legacy Hollywood filmmaking.

There’s a few moments where it feels like the movie is more artful than something the audience is finding actually entertaining, but that funny feeling doesn’t last long. The energy, charisma, and magnificent joy pick up steam as quickly as the movie continues.

La La Land is the passion project of Writer/Director Damien Chazelle, who took Hollywood by storm two years ago with his first musical movie Whiplash. There’s a few similarities between them, including the musical motifs, jaw-dropping finales, themes of ambition and defining success, and a J. K. Simmons being a cranky music snob.

Photo credit: Lionsgate Films.

Photo credit: Lionsgate Films.

Chazelle’s love for the cinematic musical is the drive behind his effective directing. La La Land is more than a love letter to the Hollywood musical and the popular genre it was in the 30s-50s; it’s his tip of the hat to why these movies were so emotionally impactful.

It’s also a love letter to the city of Los Angeles, in the same bright, subtle way John Hughes showcased Chicago in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. One great scene in the Griffith Observatory is a dance number that’s truly breathtaking. The editing, music, and actors elevate it to one of the best scenes of any movie this year.

Even the title of the movie is deceptively clever. While La La Land has long been the nickname for Los Angeles and Hollywood, it means more than one thing in the story.

The movie’s story is between a struggling actor named Mia (Emma Stone) and a jazz pianist named Sebastian (Ryan Gosling). It follows one year in their lives as they fall in and out of love with their jobs, their city, and each other.

It may sound unoriginal and banal, but the movie is surprisingly fresh. Chazelle uses a contemporary setting, conflict, and character insecurities to give a smart analysis of creating art in the modern world. It’s true movie makers love making movies about movies and making movies, but this is an example love and respect, not pretentiousness.

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This format of self-introspection is also the kind of thing Oscar voters absolutely love in movies. Whenever tinsel town is shown as smart, careful, and welcoming like this, it’s like candy. This alone may be enough to make La La Land an easy favourite to win Best Picture at the Academy Awards this year.

Photo credit: Lionsgate Films.

Photo credit: Lionsgate Films.

(Five years ago, the winner for Best Picture was The Artist, another musical movie about old Hollywood and the love story between working actors. It swept the awards, and La La Land feels very similar. The main difference is this movie is in colour, and has singing.)

The best part of the movie is the fabulous Emma Stone as actress Mia – she dominates the screen with poise, heart, intelligence, and whimsy. Her finale musical number near the end is the same continuous close up to Anne Hathaway’s from 2012’s Les Miserables, and it’s just as spellbinding.

The movie’s only faults may be the slow beginning scenes and occasionally boring lines. These are easily overcome by the energy that builds as the movie continues, and overshadowed by the beautiful, giant song and dance numbers. It may also just come at a bad time, with two other musicals (Moana and Sing) still playing in theatres.

These are minor concerns, however, and La La Land is well worth seeing if it’s your cup of tea. It’s an expertly made movie with great chances to win several Oscars, and it kept me smiling for the whole two hours.

As a way to decide if it’s something you’ll enjoy, all you need to know is the movie is exactly what the romantic age of cinema was when Gene Kelly and Judy Garland were the stars, and the music shined. Your enjoyment will depend on how much you miss those, and whether it’s the kind of thing you love to hate or love to see.

La La Land
4 out of 4 stars.

PG, 128 minutes. Musical Romance Epic.
Written and Directed by Damien Chazelle.
Starring Emma Stone, Ryan Gosling, and John Legend.
Now Playing at Cineplex Winston Churchill, Cineplex Oakville & VIP.

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