“La La Land”
***1/2 (3 and a half stars)
A romantic story of two unlikely lovers, Sebastian (played by veteran actor Ryan Gosling) and Mia (played by Emma Stone), set to music and dance in many picturesque locations throughout the Los Angeles area. Not only is the movie
Visually stunning and innovative on many levels, you sit back at times and simply wonder how the writer and director (Damien Chazelle) managed to pull some of the scenes off so well.
Mia is a struggling actress who literally lives to act. I must confess that I have seen Emma Stone in several movies over the past 3 years or so (the two Spider Man reboots, and also “The Help,” “Birdman” and “Crazy Stupid Love” in which she also co-starred with Gosling), but I’ve never seen her in a better performance than here. Stone’s Mia performs several monologues as she prepares for auditions throughout this film that really showcase her depth as a actress, and as great as she is in this film, she will definitely have even better roles coming her way for the foreseeable future. She’s just amazing here, and she gives a performance worth seeing in the role of a lifetime for any young actress, and makes it her own.
Sebastian is a jazz pianist who wants to do it all his way, and while he is talented, his lack of flexibility is his biggest liability to success as an artist. What’s not to like about Ryan Gosling? He too gave a great performance in “Crazy Stupid Love” (if you’ve never seen that film, I would definitely recommend obtaining a copy of it or watch it on demand, he’s great there as well). Gosling’s Sebastian is likable, good looking; while he initially lacks warmth and charm, when he turns it on in this film, he’s like a meteor zipping across the sky. The only thing I really don’t like about him is that he looks great in just about everything he wears in the film.
Director Chazelle has a reasonably diverse cast, (which is always a great thing and no easy feat in Hollywood these days, despite much pressure for the movie industry to diversify casting), and an added plus is singer/musician John Legend, who also shines as a jazz bandleader Keith. Keith takes a chance and hires Sebastian, and old high school classmate, as a member of his band. As old friends, Keith knows Sebastian’s characteristic lack of flexibility all too well, but he recognizes Sebastian’s talent on the piano/keyboards, and takes him along on tour across the country.
While Sebastian is on tour with Keith’s band, Mia’s acting career also begins to take off. Of course, the movie’s tension is about how Mia and Sebastian deal with their intense love for one another while attempting to live their artistic lives as well.
It’s a terrific film, set to music, and quite refreshing, even more so after a long, tough 2016. If you’re looking for some real escapism on the big screen (and want to see what all the hoopla is about, considering all of the Oscar nominations this film has racked up), you cannot go wrong in seeing this film. Kudos to Damien Chazelle for putting it all together. Writer/directors don’t get many opportunities like this one, and Chazelle’s vision literally blazes across the screen.
Starring Emma Stone, Ryan Gosling, J.K. Simmons
128 minutes. Written and directed by Damien Chazelle. PG-13.