Verdict: Go watch it, it’s a gorgeous film with fun music and another great example of Stone/Gosling chemistry. If you can’t see it in theaters, make sure to catch on VOD or HBO.
Synopsis: “Struggling actress Mia (Emma Stone) and aspiring jazz pianist Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) begin a whirlwind romance as they both pursue their dreams in Los Angeles. However, their blossoming relationship is challenged when their careers pull them in different directions.”
The Good: Stone’s strongest performance, great chemistry with Gosling, tight direction, and thematic/musical/aesthetics ties.
I know there can’t be that many relevant acting pairs/duos of the past five years, but of those that come to mind, including Kristen Stewart/Jesse Eisenberg and Jennifer Lawrence/Bradley Cooper, Emma Stone/Ryan Gosling has to be my favorite and the best.
EmGoss™ just has a charm about them that works. They play off each other so well, providing some of the best parts of Crazy, Stupid Love and certainly Gangster Squad. La La Land is no exception. EmGoss™ flows back and forth with such absolute ease, you’d think they’d been at it for far longer than five years. It’s a type of sincerity that is hard to come by on screen, and while they should explore other projects, I hope they continue to pair up for the foreseeable future.
I’m not sure this is Gosling’s best performance of his career, but it is certainly not worse than any other. He is charming and nuanced, carrying a lot of his performance in his expressions and eyes, often showing more in silence than in speech. Personally, I was most impressed by his singing capability. He has a gorgeous voice, and it wasn’t perfect (at least to my untrained ears), which made it more human and relatable.
Stone, however, gave her best performance to date. She expresses the zenith of what we’ve seen from her in the past. Stone’s character is shy and forward, unintentionally funny, and feels like someone we all know. She captures both the idealism and sadness necessary to pull this role off.
Director Damien Chazelle, who blew my mind with last year’s Whiplash, continues to do excellent work here. There is tightness to his work that is frankly unmatched. He coordinates music and themes perfectly and shows the different intended effects. In Whiplash, it was controlled and terrifying chaos, while here, it is a gorgeous illusion of nostalgia.
However, what differs La La Land significantly from Whiplash is the use of color. There is color everywhere in this movie. Being completely honest? I don’t understand the color. I couldn’t tell you based on one viewing what the point of the different palettes was at certain times, what they represented, etc. But I do know that I loved it and that it added another level to the veneer of magic at the core of the film’s themes.
Visually the cinematography is impressive and active in a way that is both unique and clearly a calling card for Chazelle. The songs are upbeat and fun, the choreography tying into the actors’ strengths well. Conceptually the movie is also strong, playing a nostalgia for Old Hollywood and jazz off of a contradictory millennial cynicism and idealism, that sees the actors constantly struggle between reality and dream.
The conclusion is heavy hitting and beautiful. It is frankly worth seeing simply for the end; it’s that good.
The Bad: Nothing truly bad, just not very memorable, with one strangely handled cameo.
Honestly calling anything in this movie straight up bad is a lie. It’s a damn good film at every turn. But, as a whole, it’s not as perfect as the praise it’s going to be given. It’s incredibly fun and light and romantic, but it’s not necessarily memorable. Writing this, I can remember far more of the emotions involved than the actual beats of the film. And that includes the music, which while it is fun, and considering I don’t have a particular bend for musicals I found it highly enjoyable, I can’t even remember what EmGoss’™ theme notes are. None of this is necessarily bad, but it deserves a critique.
My only other criticism, and it may sound like a small one with what may be a slight spoiler, so be warned: John Legend is in this, and his voice is amazing as always, and he’s perfectly fine. That being said, when he shows up, it plays out as the movie looking at the audience and saying, “Hey look! John Legend!” It isn’t done subtly in the least, in such a way that it pulled me out of the film, which was not the intended purpose of his role.
The Ugly: Lots of POC surrounding the leads, with one missed opportunity and a failed Bechdel Test.
I have few complaints in this department. There are a good number of POC in the crowd, ensemble dance numbers, and music groups. Honestly, my biggest issue with it was the focus of Gosling’s story on jazz dying out, but rarely mentioning how the popularity he was scared of it losing was only due to the appropriation from POC during the good ol’ days. Not a huge point, but worth mentioning. Also, I’m fairly sure that it fails the Bechdel Test hard.