by Callahan Jones
The modern musical “La La Land,” directed by Damien Chazelle, is a fresh twist on a tale of love told time and time again. It is held up by solid acting, innovative cinematography, and a Golden Globe-winning soundtrack.
The film opens up with an energetic number, “Another Day of Sun,” that tells of life in Los Angeles. The scene features impressive on-screen choreography in an expressive Broadway style.
It is during this opener that the two main characters are introduced during a fit of LA traffic road rage. Mia (Emma Stone) is an actress struggling to break into Hollywood and is working at a coffee shop in the meantime. Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) is the stereotypical starving jazz artist with dreams of opening his own jazz club.
The two characters meet again at a party, reluctantly fall in love and urge each other to reach for the stars. The two start to tackle their dreams over a multitude of scenes and songs.
Rather than wondering what a couple in love might do when their ambitions are pulling them in opposite directions, the film ambitiously tackles the problem, one that many couples face today, head on.
However, “La La Land’s” plot, though viewed through an interesting lens, is a story that has been many times. Two people meet, fall in love, live some of life together, and then have problems that eventually resolve in one way or another. The plot concept itself is the weakest part of the movie.
Also on the weak side are some of the supporting roles in the cast. One of the most disappointing performances is John Legend appearing in the role of Sebastian’s old college friend. Legend seemed cast for his ability to draw people to the film, rather than for his acting ability. Legend’s star power is especially apparent in the scene containing the track “Start A Fire,” the oddest break of the entire film.
What is not weak about “La La Land” is almost every other aspect of the film.
Both Stone and Gosling play their characters excellently, making them believable and drawing the audience into the story, regardless of how many times they’ve heard it before. Their chemistry is outstanding. Stone and Gosling also performed all of their character’s dancing and singing in the film, areas in which they are evidently skilled.
One place in which their skill is apparent is during the song “A Lovely Night,” which is when the two first start to fall in love. Throughout the beautiful and humorous number, the two sing about how the night was wasted by the other’s company while cycling through various forms of dance, including an extended tap-inspired routine.
The strong character portrayals by Stone and Gosling are backed up by the film’s smart writing. The dialogue flows naturally and the humor is well placed. However, the movie does make some clever allusions to popular movies of the past that might go over the heads of younger or less informed audience members.
The music of “La La Land” is the real shining feature of the film, as it should be. All of the songs were composed by Justin Hurwitz, a newcomer to film composing. Many of the tracks, both those sung by the characters and the soundtrack, have a heavy jazz influence, fitting in with the character of Sebastian and giving the entire film a nostalgic feel.
One of the most emotionally powerful moments of the film, the epilogue, is filled entirely with a sweeping track (the appropriately titled “Epilogue”), which contains throwbacks to the rest of the musical themes present in the film.
Overall, “La La Land” feels like a throwback to the films of yesteryear but manages to keep it fresh and relevant to today’s world. Through Stone and Gosling’s performances, smart writing decisions and a refreshing and powerful soundtrack, Chazelle has managed to produce a movie that is easily one of the best of 2016.
Callahan Jones is a sophomore journalism major and a writer and web designer for Cedars. He enjoys progressive metal, jazz, classical, various other kinds of music, and board games.