FlixChatter Review: La La Land (2016)

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Written/Directed by: Damien Chazelle
Runtime: 128 minutes

Rarely did I respond so strongly to a film’s tagline. In fact, I mostly barely notice them. Here’s to the fools who dream… well, La La Land‘s tagline speaks to me in a profound way, as essentially, I am one of those fools. Unabashedly.

Emma Stone plays Mia, an aspiring actress who works at Warner Brothers lot, serving lattes to movie stars with googly eyes. Any free time she gets she spends it on auditions. And like many other aspiring actresses like her, she gets constant rejections, and treated like dirt by casting directors. Meanwhile, there’s Ryan Gosling‘s Sebastian, a jazz musician who scrapes by playing gigs at dingy bars and Hollywood pool parties. Whilst Mia dreams of movie star greatness, Sebastian dreams of opening his own jazz club that celebrates the kind of jazz music he thinks is a dying music genre. These *fools* meet serendipitously, during a rousing opening number that harkens back to classic musicals where the actors burst into song and start singing and dancing in the midst of L.A.’s traffic jam.

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With a title like La La Land, this musical dramedy is unabashedly dreamy and stylish. It’s hard not to smile during these energetic musical numbers, though I have to admit at times my mind did wander off and my heart craved for something meaty to hold on to. Well, Damien Chazelle did give us some moments with deep emotional resonance, but it’s not necessarily from the romance. Despite the dreamy-ness of the Mia/Sebastian love story, I think the musical numbers actually take place of the emotional weight. I just didn’t quite feel the oomph of their romance, that intense longing to be together a la Romeo & Juliet or Jack & Rose (hmmm, I just realized these two stars Leo DiCaprio, I guess the guy can really sell romance!) In any case, the moment that truly got me is the audition scene where Mia sang ‘fools who dream.’ I will definitely do a Music Break of this film, though the only song I remember most is this one. I was practically sobbing watching that scene, and Emma Stone deserves all the kudos for her performance just on this scene alone. Perhaps because she identified so well with Mia’s journey, having moved to L.A. at 15 to pursue acting, that her emotion in the film feels authentic.

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As for Gosling, I think many of my blog regulars know I’m not fond of the guy. This film doesn’t exactly change my mind about him. I do think he’s good, though not nearly as strong as Stone as his co-star. I just think Gosling’s face isn’t the least bit expressive and devoid of emotion, and so to this day I still don’t get what the fuss is about him. This is the third time Emma/Ryan are paired together as lovers, and I suppose they do have chemistry, though not quite the Bogey/Bacall variety.

The movie consist of pretty much the two of them from start to finish, J.K. Simmons and singer John Legend both had small roles that are basically cameos. The talented Rosemarie DeWitt is grossly underused as well as Sebastian’s sister. Some critics point out the lack of Black characters in the movie, which as a non-White person I think it’s not always fair to expect every race is represented in every film.

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As for that ending…  SPOILER ALERT (highlight to read) It’s clever for Chazelle to have his cake and eat it too. The last 20 minute or so of the movie happens about 5 years after Mia and Sebastian parted ways. Essentially they achieved their dreams, at the cost of their romance. But it ends with a dreamy sequence of the two getting together and living happily ever after, which is what the audience would hope to happen. But for me, I’m glad they didn’t end up together, just like Roman Holiday, sometimes a bittersweet ending is one you remember most.

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The critics went wild for this movie, and I agree with some who thinks this film is way overrated. I’ve had people ask me what I think of it, as I have the poster hanging outside my office at work. I’d say it’s a frothy romance with a moving story about chasing your dreams. Emotionally speaking, it’s not exactly profound and it doesn’t quite reach the poignancy of Moonlight, but there are plenty of things Chazelle did here that deserve praise. It’s stylish and beautifully-shot, with a dreamy-like quality to it that sweeps your feet away.

The music by Justin Hurwitz is certainly one of the strongest aspects of the film, one I’d remember for years to come. Some sequences, especially that opening number, is truly lovely. I also love the creative use of props for locations such as Paris, which enhances the fantastical nature of the story. It’s also nice to see such a gorgeous film that is not just style over substance.

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Have you seen La La Land? What did you think?

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21 thoughts on “FlixChatter Review: La La Land (2016)

  1. I liked it better than any new release I saw last year. It’s not as deep as something like Moonlight but it entertained me more and was more engaging visually than most of the blockbusters that spent like crazy on effects.

    1. Hi Richard, happy new year! Yes it’s very entertaining indeed. You’re right visually it’s incredible, and it’s only got a relatively small $30 mil budget! Moonlight is not as ‘entertaining’ per se but emotionally it’s unforgettable.

  2. I’m fully in agreement with your review — I liked the film a lot, but it didn’t tug my heartstrings as much as I expected it to, or hoped it would. I also agree that the “Fools Who Dream” performance was one of the strongest parts of the film. Emma Stone did a great job with that! This is a case where the film doesn’t quite deserve the hype it’s getting, but doesn’t deserve the hate it’s getting either. It’s a nice watch. Enjoyed reading your thoughts. 🙂

    1. Hi Lindsey! The romance is rather bland and frothy, I never felt there’s a yearning from either of them, which is the recipe for any memorable romances. But the ‘fools who dream’ scene is definitely an emotional one for me, and anyone who dreams big of making it in the entertainment biz. I think any hype that is disproportionate to the quality of any piece is gonna get flak. Thanks for your comment!

  3. Tom

    I think I’m there with you Ruth. As far as the musical accompaniment goes, I really only remember “Another Day of Sun” and “Audition (The Fools who Dream).” But those songs were really potent. And Emma Stone in particular was excellent in her solo number. But this movie missed my Top 8 for a reason. I just didn’t FULLY connect with it on a truly deep level, but I definitely, definitely enjoyed it and thought it was vibrant and really romantic.

    1. Hello Tom! Yep, the audition scene is incredible and learning how it was shot live made me admire Emma’s performance even more.

      “…I just didn’t FULLY connect with it on a truly deep level” Yep exactly, that’s why it didn’t reach the level of greatness that Moonlight did. That film really took me by surprise and one I will champion this award season. But this one is definitely a special one, very unique in its style.

  4. Hey Ruth, thanks for that honest review. As for me, I’m very excited for this movie. I heard the soundtrack and loved it. Also, they had me at that tagline and the dream-like element that the movie showcases (the trailers couldn’t hide that)! I heard 2-3 other critics pointing out the problem regarding the musical numbers also so I guess, I’d just have to be my own judge on that. But all in all, loved the review! ^_^

    1. Hello Shivani! Oh the soundtrack is indeed awesome, I will do a Music Break post on that very soon. I adore that tagline, it’s rare that a tagline resonated with me so much but that is the case here. I hope you’ll enjoy it, I still think it’s a good movie with some memorable scenes.

  5. I think you know that I’m not into musicals so this is something that I probably won’t waste my time on. I’m not a big fan of Gosling either but I know that Hollywood is waiting for him to be the next big star. But I do have respect for him that he never really go the easy route and star in a bunch of rom-coms or big budget action pictures and making tons of money. He seems to care about his work and starred in more smaller films.

    1. Hi Ted, I doubt you’d enjoy this if you’re not into musicals. I think Hollywood hasn’t given up on Gosling yet, I mean he’s in Blade Runner 2 though I don’t think he’s got box office prowess. But you’re right at least he tries different genres even though I think he’s not as strong a performer as some seems to think he is.

  6. Nice review Ruth. I adore this film on so many levels. I love how it evokes classic MGM musicals while also staying modern. I also loved the music and several of the songs really stuck to me. Beautiful mixtures of jazz and big band but perfectly in sync with the film. Big fan of most of the numbers, the humor, and the romance. I left each viewing with such a smile on my face despite the bittersweet (and perfect) ending.

    1. Hi Keith! I’m not as in love w/ this one as you did, but I certainly like many parts of it. I think the music are definitely great, but the romance is just so so, I don’t feel much emotion between them. I do think the ending is perfectly bittersweet 🙂

  7. This is a widely praised film for a wide variety of reasons. For me, it stands out for two reasons: it is an authentic revival of a lost genre (the classic Hollywood musical with its unbridled eruption of emotion expressed through spontaneous song and dance with scant regard for narrative or dialogue and even less for everyday reality) and the visceral way it communicates (a film to bathe yourself in, let its exuberance, musicality, and nonsensical scenes of flyaway romance dazzle you). Great fun too.

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  10. La La Land is a lovely movie, good but not great. Not for those who can’t stand musicals. Overrated – yes! Unfortunately, I haven’t watched Moonlight, so can’t compare. Personally, I prefer ‘Arrival’.

    1. Hi Zurainny, thanks for your comment. Ahah yeah I think those who can’t stand musicals probably aren’t going to like La La Land. Arrival is indeed excellent, but hope you’d check out Moonlight as well.

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