When it comes to movies, musicals aren’t my thing. In part because they generally don’t interest me and also because I don’t give them a chance. I had only heard great things about La La Land and decided to give it a chance. I really wanted to dislike this movie and after the film’s opening scene I was regretting my decision to purchase the tickets. However, not long after, it began to win me over…much to my surprise and relief. It was overwhelmingly infectious and in the end I just couldn’t help it. I really enjoyed this movie quite a lot, maybe even more so because my guard was down. Nonetheless it’s a winner…literally. The movie dominated the 74th Golden Globe Awards, winning Best Picture (Musical or Comedy), sweeping all the categories in which it was nominated and setting a record in the process. It became the most awarded film in Globes history and received the largest sweep, both records previously held by One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975).
Two of those awards went directly to Writer/Director Damien Chazelle for his efforts in both categories. Earlier in the year he had penned the very under-the-radar thriller 10 Cloverfield Lane coming off his success with Whiplash (2014). He adapted his own short film of the same name into the full length film which would become the festival darling during 2014 and earn an Academy Award nomination for best adapted screenplay. The script for La La Land was both romanticized fantasy and still reflective of a real Los Angeles story. It follows the parallel and intersecting lives of Mia and Sebastian as they traverse the pitfalls incumbent with the pursuit of Hollywood success. Chazelle did a masterful job capturing the experience and getting his cast to go along for the ride. Notably, the dialogue for the main characters was incredibly poignant and heartfelt. Clearly, derived from real joy and real pain. Dragged through the best and worst parts of romantic entanglements. At the end of the day, authenticity is the film’s backbone.
Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone both took home Golden Globes for best actor and actress respectively, in a comedy or musical. I was a bit apprehensive about Stone in the lead role of Mia after her stint as Gwen Stacy in The Amazing Spider-man series, but she erased any doubt. Her portrayal of a back-lot barista struggling to find love while pursuing her silver screen dreams, felt very much at home. Something undeniably familiar. Her performance is consistently strong throughout the film with some exceptionally powerful peaks scattered in. A markedly brilliant rendition for a still growing actress. The Golden Globe win was well deserved for Stone and she will stand a legitimate shot to take home the Academy Award later in the Year.
Opposite her, Ryan was at his most definitive Gosling. Pitch perfect. Equal parts charming, moody, passionate and funny. He played Sebastian a struggling jazz musician desperately attempting to carve out his niche in the LA music scene. As far as I knew, Gosling wasn’t an accomplished pianist before this film, but damn that guy can play. Chazelle said in an interview, it was was indeed Gosling playing the whole time with no doubles throughout the entire film. Practice, practice, practice six times a week in two-hour sittings paid off handsomely. Again, it brought this genuine authenticity to the film that carries an intangible value. Let’s not forget the guy can act too and his chemistry with Stone was fantastic. They played off each other effortlessly and really brought out the best in one another. Most likely the best performance of his career, the Golden Globe win was a bit of a formality. He will probably lose out to Casey Affleck for the Oscar, but Gosling’s career trajectory took a massive bump and we’ll see plenty more of him in the future.
Obviously music is a big part of the movie. Composer Justin Hurwitz took home Golden Globes for Best Original Score and Best Original Song “City of Stars.” He previously worked with Chazelle as a member of the music department and composer for the aforementioned Whiplash. The pair clearly have a strong understanding of one another and the vision for the final product. The marriage of the music with visual storytelling does wonders for the audience. I imagine these two will continue to work together as long as circumstances allow. So far, both of their top tier projects have had music at the forefront but I’m curious to see what they will do to up the ante.
The cinematography has some exceptional moments and good consistently. Director of Photography Linus Sandgren understood how to shoot the locations in order to maximize their natural beauty. The location management team deserves a good amount of credit for the final product on screen as well. I grew up in LA, so to see the beauty of my home town through someone else’s perspective was both refreshing and nostalgic. Realistically, everyone who worked on this project should be proud and it’s not a short list. La La Land was just incredibly well put together across the board.
I’m curious to see how it stacks up against the competition when Best Picture nominees are announced for the Academy Awards on January 24. Musicals produced 5 Best Picture winners between 1958-68 but didn’t see another winner until Chicago in 2002. It has been 15 years and the only other musical to even get the nomination was Les Miserables in 2012. La La Land definitely has a tough road ahead, but the Oscar nomination is pretty much guaranteed. It is one of the two best movies I’ve seen this year and most likely the only nominee from the Golden Globes Comedy/Musical category which will hold up under the Academy’s standards.
Recommendation: Go see this movie. It’s family friendly (pretty sure). A great date movie. Guilty pleasure. It’s had a big surge since the success at the Golden Globes. Catchy, fun, and downright contagious. You’d be hard pressed to walk out of the theater disappointed.