City of Stars: A Review of “La La Land”

Movies are supposed to feel magical. They transport us to worlds both familiar and alien; relay stories ranging between grandeur and intimate scale; and introduce us to an array of characters we’ve known our entire lives along with those we’ve yet to meet. La La Land, from Whiplash writer-director Damien Chazelle, is 2016’s most magical and completely marvelous film. From start to finish, La La Land pays homage to classical Hollywood musicals in a wholly engaging and visually stunning tribute — one that features first class performances from co-leads Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, who impressively dance and sing along to its wonderful soundtrack.

Emma Stone plays Mia, a young, aspiring actress desperately hoping to make her break in Hollywood, but is unfortunately stuck working a barista job on a soundstage lot. Opposite her, Ryan Gosling’s Sebastian is a down-on-his-luck pianist whose admiration for jazz guides his desire to manage his own jazz club in L.A., but is rather left performing renditions of Christmas songs at a local restaurant.

The two eventually find what they’ve always needed in each other, but as these things always go, there’s initially some chance encounters in which the two butt heads and express how uninterested they are in each other. But it’s apparent that the pair has wonderful chemistry, brought to light early on in one of the film’s best pieces, “A Lovely Night.” The couple elegantly dances around an L.A. street corner as the sun sets — the scene not only being gorgeous to look at, but Stone and Gosling’s voices evoke similarly as much beauty.

The story, while familiar, is entirely engaging thanks to the stellar performances of Stone and Gosling (who’ve paired twice before in Crazy, Stupid, Love and Gangster Squad). And while the love story itself would suffice enough to make La La Land an enjoyable romance, it’s the musical numbers that make La La Land truly phenomenal. Whether it be the grand set pieces or the tinier, more intimate takes, the film’s songs are always a spectacle to listen to.

The film’s opening number, “Another Day of Sun,” stands out as the film’s biggest song-and-dance number. It features dozens of commuters stuck in traffic on an L.A. freeway, dancing through and on top of cars, all the while singing the soundtrack’s most upbeat and catchiest tune. “Audition (The Fool’s Who Dream)” falls on the opposite end of the spectrum, being an impeccably beautiful solo from Stone in the third act. Similarly, the multiple renditions of “City of Stars” seen throughout the course of the film become increasingly enjoyable as Gosling and Stone gracefully duet midway through.

Perhaps more so than any other film released in 2016, La La Land is a film that deserves to be seen in a theater. Chazelle utilizes the ultra widescreen format CinemaScope, allowing for unmitigated views of every moment of a character’s dance. And the best (and seriously impressive) aspect of the musical numbers in La La Land are that they’re all performed in a single take from one camera’s perspective. Each of the musical bits are performed without flaw, adding to the never-ending awe that the film elicits. The film’s lead dance choreographer, Mandy Moore, creates here a landscape of irresistible dances that you can’t help but marvel at.

There truly is no other film that came out in 2016 that I could recommend more than La La Land. It’d be hard to imagine a single person that couldn’t pull something they loved or appreciated from watching it. As for me, I admired every last aspect of the film. La La Land is everything a great movie should be, and it’s without a doubt my favorite film of 2016.

— Michael Lane, Blog Editor

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