365 Movies By Day Reviews of Movies I Watch that I Feel Like Writing About


La La Land (2016)

Don't let the first ten minutes of Damien Chazelle's (Whiplash) La La Land influence you too much. As much as it might seem like West Side Story, Grease, or a host of other musicals, rest assured it is not that kind of movie. Ten minutes in, after a supporting cast of characters who you never see again finished performing a song and dance on top of and around their cars while in a traffic jam on the 105/110 interchange in Los Angeles, CA, I wondered what the heck I had gotten myself into. There was a reason I have never been able to get through Chicago or Moulin Rouge. I am sure that these are fine movies, heck Chicago won Best Picture and Moulin Rouge was a Best Picture nominee. I'm just not into musicals as much as I am other genres. There is nothing wrong with them (I don't like animated movies much either), but they just aren't my cup of tea. I think the only reason I was able to sit through Les Miserables was because my dad had already tricked me into watching it in the theater. My biggest fear was that La La Land would be either all song and dance (which was implied from the trailers early in the year) or a lot of song and dance (which was inferred from later previews). However, neither was the case. While there was a lot of music in this film and it certainly was a musical, it's not JUST music. There is so much more. I think if you're at least willing to give this movie a chance, you'll enjoy it in some fashion.

La La Land is on everyone's shortlist for the four big Oscar awards. It's a certainty that it gets nominations for Best Picture and Best Director while Emma Stone (Birdman, Irrational Man) is almost surely a lock to land her second Oscar nomination (first for Best Actress). The wildcard will be Ryan Gosling (Half Nelson, The Ides of March). While at the time of this posting I think he likely will get the fifth nomination behind Denzel Washington (Fences), Casey Affleck (Manchester by the Sea), Joel Edgerton (Loving), and Tom Hanks (Sully), this nomination could easily go to one of a few other actors, including Andrew Garfield (Hacksaw Ridge). While La La Land has a great chance to win Best Picture and Chazelle might be the leader for Best Director as well as Stone for Best Actress, Gosling won't win. This year's race is between Washington and Affleck with everyone else a distant third. What Gosling has going for him is that he's been glanced over for a nomination on multiple occasions when he likely should have received a nod (Blue Valentine, Lars and the Real Girl). If everything else is equal for that fifth spot, I could see him getting the final recognition. His performance is deserving.

While I feel that La La Land could have been focused around the theme of music (similar to a movie like Once) rather than a musical itself, that was not Chazelle's vision and, for as much as I would have liked it to have been, it probably wouldn't have worked as well. Chazelle pays homage to the Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly musicals from the 60+ years ago like Top Hat, Swing Time, Singin' in the Rain, and On the Town. Chezelle does what movies like ChicagoMoulin Rouge, and Les Miserables did not do as successfully. He let the instruments (and not the lyrics) tell more of the story. I didn't have many problems with the movie. In fact, I found myself appreciating it more as it moved along and then even more when I got home and started reflecting on it. What I liked least about it was probably what I also liked most about it. And that is Chazelle. In addition to directing the movie, he wrote the screenplay. But he got away from his format. There were only 3-4 scenes where the movie paused so that a song and dance number could take center stage. One of these was the film's very first scene. The others all occurred in the film's first half. Then Chazelle got away from that completely. While I appreciated the less 'Grease-type' numbers, it felt a bizarre to abandon that approach as this film became more a drama and less a comedy as it progressed. The music still took center stage, but the musical type feeling disappeared. Again, personally I didn't have a problem with it because I didn't enjoy the musical asides as much, but it did make the movie feel a little uneven.

The story, which takes place through four seasons in one year, revolves around its two lead characters. Mia (Stone) is an aspiring actress who works as a Barista at a coffee shop on the Warner Brothers lot when she is not auditioning for roles. She is young and hopeful, but she hasn't had any success landing roles. Sebastian (Gosling) is an aspiring Jazz musician who, like Mia, struggles to make ends meet. He takes side jobs while working on his dreams of writing and performing his own music while owning a Jazz club. Are they both dreamers? Of course they are. But they are young, full of hope, and willing to work hard to achieve their dreams. Neither is looking to meet the other, but circumstances bring them together on multiple occasions. And their meetings aren't always smooth. In fact, each has treated the other like a jerk at least one time, not thinking they'd ever run into each other again.

But they do keep running into each other and through these meetings they start developing a friendship that turns into something more. They become each other's biggest fans while pushing one another to achieve their dreams. He opens her eyes to Jazz, and she teaches him humility and kindness. They fall in love in a very real sense of the word. And the best part about it is that it's not overdone. This movie is rated PG-13 and could very much be related PG. Sure a kid isn't likely to enjoy this movie, but there is nothing inappropriate that happens during it. The love isn't blatantly passionate. It's more than that. They love each other first as friends and partners and anything sexual and overtly romantic happens well offscreen. Sure they encounter real life problems, and they deal with them compassionately as adults. When Sebastian is offered a touring gig with Keith (John Legend) that will pay him well, allow him to do what he likes doing, and also help a new generation of people help the aging music genre of Jazz, it becomes difficult for him to say no. The job will take him all over the country for long periods of a time, and he would do it in a heartbeat if it wouldn't separate him from Mia. Likewise, she has opportunities that will separate her from Sebastian. The two must decide whether to stick together and make it work as a couple or whether to pursue their individual dreams, see where it takes them, and see if they are willing to try to sustain a relationship. Most of us encounter a situation like this at least one time in our romantic lives. Gosling and Stone have developed characters that are relatable and ones who we can empathize with as they make tough life-altering decisions.

I won't give away the ending, but you'll want to make sure you pay close attention to the final 10 minutes. It's breathtakingly beautiful, wistful, and thought-provoking all at the same time. And you'll have no idea it's coming. I included a small spoiler section at the end of this review in which I'll reference my thoughts on this scene. But it does tie everything together. While subdued at times, this might be the most romantic movie of the year (I give that recognition to Me Before You, but understand I'll probably be in the minority with this).

La La Land is more a romance guided by music than it is a Musical to me. Its first half gives a different vibe than its second half. The first half has a handful of song and dance scenes and is much more upbeat than the more dramatic second half. It still feels like the same movie, but it's almost as if the first half was filmed, everyone took a break, and then Chazelle came back with a slightly different approach to the same story. This, of course, is probably not the case, but maybe by this time he realized he had two leads with much more depth than he originally thought. While neither Gosling nor Stone will win any awards based on their singing or dancing, they both deliver fantastic performances as two dreamers who weren't necessarily looking for love but knew that they had something special once they found each other. This movie is likely to be MUCH more lighthearted than the other movies (Manchester by the Sea, Loving, Moonlight, Arrival, Fences, Sully) than the other movies that will be nominated for Best Picture, but that doesn't mean it can't win. In fact, at the time of this writing, I think it will win. While my pick for Best Picture would be Manchester by the Sea, you don't get a movie like La La Land that is both a throwback to movies that came out in the 1930's, 1940's, and 1950's, but also completely relatable to the events of today every awards season. I envision this movie taking home more hardware this season than any other movie, and it certainly could nab Best Picture and give Chazelle a Best Director Oscar win in just his second feature movie.

Enjoy this gem of a film!

Plot 9.5/10
Character Development 10/10 (masterful builds of the two leads)
Character Chemistry 10/10 (Gosling and Stone are magic together, just as they were in Crazy, Stupid, Love. and just as they will be when they star in a movie again in the future)
Acting 10/10 (Gosling needed a leading man hit...it had been awhile...he's really only had one since 2011's The Place Beyond the Pines...he got it here. And Stone was flat out awesome as the optimistic dreamer who was constantly battling wondering if she should abandon her hopes regarding pursuing something more practical)
Screenplay 9.5/10 (well written)
Directing 9/10 (maybe a little lower than you'd expect for a guy who probably will win Best Director, but there was a certain unevenness at times that I didn't expect...nonetheless, he makes up for it in other areas)
Cinematography 10/10
Sound 10/10 (of course!)
Hook and Reel 9/10 (oddly enough, I'm not sure if a first scene ever gave me as much trepidation for a movie I ended up loving as this one did...but, at two hours, this movie does fly by)
Universal Relevance 10/10 (the themes presented in this movie are and will be universal as long as humans roam the earth)


The final ten minutes recounts what might have happened if Sebastian and Mia had stayed together while pursuing their dreams. In this final scene, they do not talk directly, but Sebastian plays the all too familiar track "Mia and Sebastian’s Theme (Late for the Date)" on the piano and the audience is treated to a ten-minute presentation of what might have been. Now is it melancholy or is it not? That is going to be for each viewer to decide. It's five years later. I think Chazelle does a great job of showing that both Sebastian and Mia have reached their professional dreams are happy. She is married to David (Tom Everett Scott - That Thing You Do, television's Southland) and has achieved great success as a movie star after excelling in the role designed for her that was shot in Paris. Sebastian has opened his Jazz club and even used the name Mia suggested (like it was ever any doubt that he wouldn't). He is not in a relationship, but he's happy and successful. As people who are invested in these characters, we want these characters to end up together. That they aren't doesn't necessarily mean it's a bad thing (unless you interpret that they would have been happier together based on the alternate journey Chazelle takes them on). Personally, I thought this was a happy ending. The way that they look at each other at the end (particularly him of her) leaves you wondering bit it isn't so ambiguous as some movies that just cut away and have you desiring more. You're left to make your opinion, and my opinion is that each of their lives went on and they achieved both success and happiness without one another. I believe that there is more than one path in life that can bring us joy.

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  1. I was definitely sad at the end, I wanted them to stay together. One reason I loved sing street was the unabashed happy ending. Real life is so hard, who doesn’t want a happy ending at the theater? That said, I thought it was so well done… i wanted a happy ending, but I think this was the right ending for this film. One piece of advice to your readers: make sure to see it in a theater with great sound. Ours didn’t have the best sound and I feel like i would have loved to see it in a theater with great, loud surround sound.

  2. We don’t always agree on movies, but this review is A+.
    The explanation of their romance and love was spot on and I think that is why the audience falls in love with them and is so heartbroken by the ending. It was devastating to watch, but I agree it was the right ending for the movie. And probably more realistic than all the happily ever afters.

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