Tuesday, February 7, 2017

La La Land **** (2016)

By sheer force of will alone, Damien Chazelle's La La Land charms and entertains. Shot in beautiful technicolor that includes a quiver of cinematic flourishes, and two passionate performances from Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, La La Land reminds us movies can still be magical.  Unashamedly retro without being derivative, it's nostalgia in the best sense of the word.  

The opening sequence recalls old Hollywood magic as a traffic jam on the L.A. freeway morphs into a grand song and dance sequence.  Jazz music figures into the story as well, a reminder of what culture can be and what is lost if we don't cherish it. Gosling plays a struggling jazz piano player Sebastian enamored with the history of jazz, a romantic who wants to keep the art form alive.  When a rival musician played by John Legend, chides him for being a traditionalist and not a revolutionary, Sebastian reluctantly agrees.

Meanwhile Mia (Emma Stone) is a struggling actress looking for her big break. She meets Sebastian and they get together in what may be a star crossed romance.  As his career takes off and Mia's slows down their relationship gets tested.  The story might sound thin, but La La Land is anything but that.  Each sequence after another brightens the screen with sound and color.

The title La La Land seems subversive in itself, daring audiences to take it seriously. Don't be fooled, bittersweet themes roam beneath the surface as well, for the story deals with a fading musical genre in the form of a fading film genre.  But La La Land banishes cynicism with a mere wave of the hand, like The Wizard of Oz, it dwells in the possibilities of dreams. 

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