La La Land (2016)
Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) is in his aged beaten down convertible, playing a piano jazz solo on an old tape machine, listening to one section of the tape over and over. Mia (Emma Stone) is in her Prius playing like she is talking on the phone as she practices her lines for an acting job. Sebastian and Mia and what you do on an ordinary day in sunny L.A., they are stuck at a standstill on the freeway, waiting for the slightest bit of movement of traffic. Sebastian is directly behind Mia’s car, and he notices that traffic has started moving giving his car horn a long play, while Mia is more concerned with getting her lines right. He angrily pulls his car around hers, slows down to shake his head at her while still blowing his horn. Mia looks over at Sebastian and gives him the middle finger. Sebastian quickly moves off, and Mia is left behind shaking her head.
We next see Mia working at a coffee shop on the Warner Brothers lot. In walks a big-time movie star (we never see her face, but by the stares she is getting, we know she is famous). She goes up to Mia’s station and orders her usual. It’s ready waiting for her, and the manager says it’s on the house. The movie star insists on paying for the coffee and leaves a big bill in the tip jar. Mia watches her leave and get into a golf cart to be taken to set, and you can see that someday Mia hopes that is her. She gets a text saying that she has an audition. She hurriedly leaves, only to walk right into a man who spills his whole coffee on her white shirt. We cut to the audition, where Mia is doing the scene, she rehearsed in the car, but with a jacket on hoping to cover up the coffee stain. She is giving it her all in a very emotional scene that she is portraying, tears coming down her face, just as an assistant comes into the room and interrupts her audition to give the producers a phone message. Mia starts to do the lines again, and they tell her that is all. She leaves the room and walks down the hallway and fiercely taking off her coat as she heads outside.
She heads for home and takes a shower to relax. Her three roommates (we can tell from their banter that they are all wannabe actors) barge into the bathroom and start trying to talk Mia into going to a party. After finally agreeing, we see Mia and the other women at the party, which has a lot of beautiful people at it. Mia gets bored with the party and leaves only to discover that her car has been towed from a tow-away zone, and that she has no cell service. She starts hoofing it down the road and eventually passes a jazz club, hearing a haunting tune that compels her to go in. She is stunned by how beautiful the song is and notices that the piano player is the same man who honked his horn at her on the expressway. She watches as he finishes the song to almost no applause. He is called over to where a man angrily chews him out. The piano player goes back to his piano, gathers his music and tips and heads toward the door. Mia walks up to the upcoming piano player and expresses just how wonderful his song was. He doesn’t stop to acknowledge her and even runs his should into hers, leaving her stunned in the club. Little do these two know that they are destined to be in each other’s lives, with an impact so strong it will change the way that they both look at life and love.
That is a start of a film that when I saw it in the theatre, I had a smile on my face from the first note. The opening number, performed on an actual L.A. Expressway, is one of the most amazing song and dance numbers I have ever seen on screen. In what looks like one continuous shot, people file out of their cars to sing about another day of sun in L.A. The dancing is non-stop as performers full of pure joy dance around and on top of cars, traffic dividers and ride (very L.A. like) bikes and skateboards through the standstill traffic. The song reels you in with an incredibly catchy song that is just downright fun to watch.
The movie is about the city of L.A. and the two people who are desperately trying to find their way in this crazy, entertainment-mad town. Right from the start Gosling and Stone have a chemistry that harks back to the classic song and dance movies of the forties. There is intensity and fire there that we can see on the screen that makes us want for this couple to be together and succeed. You will fall in love with their duets; their first dance with each other is a thing of magic as they dance in the moonlight on a steep street overlooking the city lights. Their dancing is effortless, as they practically glide across the road under the light of a streetlight. Equally moving and heartfelt is their singing, as their voices match each other perfectly in the many duets that they perform in the film.
Emma Stone is absolute perfection as the plucky and headstrong young woman who dreams of being an actress on the silver screen. She is so full of energy that you almost expect her to burst through the screen and out into the audience in some of her dance numbers. Gosling is a fantastic piano player, who has a musical voice that he makes his own. He owns each song and makes them even more enchanting. His voice fits perfectly with both Stone’s and the music, especially the song, “City of Stars” that plays throughout the film as the accompaniment to the romance. Justin Hurwitz’s brilliant score has a modern feel to it all the while tipping its hat to the classic big Hollywood musicals of the past. “City of Stars” is a sure Oscar nomination, but I also feel that the Emma Stone solo “Audition (The Fools Who Dream)” is worthy of a nomination, it is so moving and gorgeous and is sung by her with so much charm and conviction.
Writer/director Damien Chazelle has been trying to make this film for six years, and his passion for the movie shows in every frame. His camera is constantly moving fluidly throughout the vast, ever-changing backdrops of the city itself or the manufactured scenery reminiscent of films like An American in Paris and Brigadoon. The dialogue between Stone and Gosling is quick, witty and flows between the two characters like child’s play. The film delights in taking small moments and letting the characters sit and breathe them in.
La La Land is an extraordinary film, a musical that will make you feel good, something that we desperately need right now. You will leave the theatre wanting to dance across the lobby, feeling that you just experienced something special. I have already seen this film three times so, of course; My Rating: I Would Pay to See it Again
My movie rating system from Best to Worst: 1). I Would Pay to See it Again 2). Full Price 3). Bargain Matinee 4). Cable 5). You Would Have to Pay Me to See it Again
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