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La La Land: Old Hollywood Meets Jazz in a Dazzling Spectacle

La La Land

(01.22.2017) By Jared Martin — With the Oscars fast approaching it seems that La La Land is the movie to beat. Coming in with momentum after sweeping the Golden Globes, this film has already won an unprecedented seven awards.

The film is predicted to win several categories at the Academy Awards, and after seeing the film, it’s easy to see why.  La La Land is a charming film dedicated to a spirit of optimism, anchored by an old Hollywood-style script with all the Technicolor magic of modern film-making.

The movie follows an aspiring actress, Mia, and a struggling jazz pianist, Sebastian, played by Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling respectively. Over time, as the two cross paths chasing their prospective dreams, they fall in love. It’s a tale told throughout Hollywood history, and it’s a musical as well; a genre that’s existed since movies have had sound.

The music in the movie is fantastic; good thing too, because there is a lot of it. A large portion of the music is instrumental. Only six songs include vocals, written by Broadway composers Pasek & Paul.

It may seem like an odd choice, but the movie is every bit as enthusiastic about jazz as it is for classic Hollywood musicals. The opening number, “Another Day of Sun,” is the single big number of the film, with a pleasant melody and sing-along ensemble chorus. The rest of the soundtrack is made up of classy jazz pieces, slower ballads, and John Legend’s poppy fusion contribution. The singing, depending on who you ask, is either atrocious or charmingly amateur.

Songs aside, Stone and Gosling shine in the movie. They have palpable chemistry and are incredibly likable in their roles. Carrying the film’s majority they deftly handle the lighthearted romance while giving emotional weight to their characters’ career struggles.

While the script isn’t trying to break boundaries, it is well written with likable characters and a simple plot. It’s tightly written, with no major inconsistencies. The story might be a little too plain for some, and it may appear to wear its influences a little too prominently.

Gosling and Stone are fantastic, and the music is wonderful and charming, but the real heroes of the film are director Damien Chazelle and cinematographer Linus Sandgren.

Every scene is beautiful and a treat for the eyes, but what are most impressive are the extended shots. Most of the musical numbers were filmed in one take, which is an incredible feat in choreography, cinematography, and timing.

There are an impressive number of visual tricks in Chazelle’s bag, including grand spinning shots, interstellar dance scenes in one of Hollywood’s most iconic locations, and extended sequences of dreamy escapism.

The movie’s greatest plot strength is the unsinkable sense of optimism. Even when the characters go through low points, the movie never loses the sense that it’s going to work out.

It’s a movie that’s full of lighthearted fun, an escape from the dreariness of everyday life. The characters are so excited about their passions, you can’t help but be excited too, even if you aren’t a fan of old-school filmography. It’s refreshing to see a film unabashedly embrace things that aren’t considered “cool” anymore.

This isn’t a perfect movie, and it does occasionally seem to think it’s a little deeper than it actually is. While it is very fun it takes itself a little too seriously at times. Stone and Gosling’s dancing isn’t great, and it borrows a little too heavily on occasion.

However, La La Land is still head and shoulders above a lot of recent movies. Definitely check it out, if for no other reason to see why Damien Chazelle is on stage for half of the Oscars.