La La Land

La La Land ★★★★★

La La Land is everything I want in a film. Going into this movie nearly blind, only knowing it's a musical directed by Damien Chazelle, I didn't think I'd have to deal with unmet expectations. Unfortunately, that wasn't the case, as I have been aware of all of the buzz surrounding the film, so going in completely neutral was hard to accomplish. It wouldn't have mattered, however, if I had incredible expectations, because I know they still would have effortlessly been met, and probably surpassed.

As the film started, I was honestly hesitant to jump to any conclusions. Like I said, I unintentionally began hyping the experience up for myself, but I wanted the film to earn my appreciation. The first musical sequence kicks off, and I'm immediately reminded who's directing. Chazelle's immersive camerawork through the traffic-ridden freeway is unparalleled of anything I've seen in quite some time. Coupled with Linus Sandgren's vibrantly colorful cinematography and Justin Hurwitz's sweeping music, this sequence very painlessly gets me in the right mood.

Next, we're introduced to our main characters. Now, personally, I'm not a big Emma Stone supporter. Because of this, my only stutter-step, if you will, of the whole movie came when Stone undertook her first musical number. Her voice wasn't necessarily impressive, and her dancing seemed kind of off. Before I have the chance to become too critical, though, Ryan Gosling appears, and all is right with the world. His charismatic personality is encapsulating through and through, and even though his singing voice may not be as smooth as others, it's gritty, believable feel is good enough to say the least. From this moment on, I have to admit I have exactly zero qualms with either of these actors. Their imperfections in singing and dancing are so minor (at least to my layman eyes) that I have no problems with them. On the contrary, I think these imperfect qualities add believability, and serve to flesh out Mia and Sebastian as characters. There really aren't any other characters, except for J.K. Simmons' small role, while he absolutely nailed, and John Legend, who does what he has to, and nothing more or less.

As I said earlier, the cinematography is beautifully vibrant, giving every scene, every shot, a kind of life that continually draws me in. On top of that, Damien Chazelle teams up, again, with his Whiplash composer, Justin Hurwitz, to bring the world to life by making the music itself a character. All of this is structured in a way that simultaneously pay homage to 50's classics and utilizes resources and atmospheres of modern cinema. I can honestly say, in the best way possible, it was difficult to know, at times, what time period the film was set in.
The narrative of the film ties all of these elements together seamlessly. La La Land is very much a love story, however, not so much between two people. Rather, it's a love story of artists and their art; creators and their creations; dreamers and their passions. This is a story that has the potential to strike a personal chord with every person sitting in the audience. These characters continuously make sacrifices for their dreams, and I love how, more often than not, they seem to come up short. This isn't a story about all of your dreams coming true exactly how you want them. It is, however, a story of perseverance and passion outweighing the costs of potential failure or embarrassment. It speaks volumes of how, even the most successful dreamers don't always get where they are the way they had planned. What makes it so special, though, is that these characters recognize that life isn't perfect, and they are still completely content. Although it presents its fair share of fantasies and "what ifs", there are no looming guilts, or overwhelming regrets with where these characters are in life.

The film ends in, quite literally, the best possible way: a smile. I absolutely could not have asked for a better moment to close the curtain on, because the nearly 10 minute sequence leading up to this moment had me unashamedly grinning from ear to ear, knowing what was around the corner, and not caring one bit.

Needless to say, La La Land is my favorite movie of 2016 (so far). It looks, sounds, and feels wholeheartedly vibrant, and speaks to the dreamer in me in a way that I'm sure most, if not all, people can identify with. The consistent nods to film history are the icing on an already impeccable cake that leaves me craving more. I'm in love with this film, and I sincerely cannot wait to see it again.

Now, for a little bit of personal backstory on my movie-going experience. Thursday morning, I was watching a video of famous people in the film industry's favorite movie theaters in the world, which can be seen here (By the way, I highly recommend this YouTube channel, Academy Originals. They have some really interesting stuff from big names in the industry.). At about 1:35, in the video, a handful of people, including Steven Spielberg, mention the Cinerama Dome on Sunset Blvd. Since I'm in school in Southern California, I had to check it out. A quick Google search showed La La Land screening, starting that very day. I had an idea to see it with my girlfriend on Saturday, the 10th. However, naturally, the tickets were more expensive than I typically spend at the theaters. As I'm wallowing in my own chaotic insecure delusions, a banner passes my laptop screen that says "La La Land screening, followed by Q&A with Damien Chazelle and Emma Stone - Sunday, December 11". At this point, I couldn't care less about Stone, but I simply could not pass up the oprtunity to see Chazelle. I checked the ticket prices, assuming they'd be way more than the standard screening, and they were the exact same price. Then I checked the seating, expecting it to be completely sold out. To my surprise, there were a handful of seats available in the very last row of the theater. Riding high on the adrenaline of seeing a potentially great movie, in a potentially great theater, followed by a Q&A with a great director, I quickly pitched the idea to my girlfriend, which she was on board with right away, so I bought the tickets.

Three days later, I experienced quite possibly the best movie-going experience I've ever had. Not only was the movie fantastic, the Q&A was very interesting and insightful. Chazelle talked about how his idea for this movie predated Whiplash. He discussed how he's known composer Justin Hurwitz since they were 18, and the two used to play music together (Chazelle played drums and Hurwitz played piano, which I thought was interesting considering their two films together). He talked about him growing up not really having a taste for musicals (which I completely identified with), and how, as he's gotten older and become a filmmaker, he revisits classic musicals, with stars like Gene Kelly, and is much more appreciative and enjoys them a lot. Chazelle then went on to talk about how those films made breaking into song believable, because characters didn't do it without purpose by using music convey emotion. Emma Stone talked about the challenges of acting in a musical, and how she felt very comfortable with Ryan Gosling (this being their third film together). She also said that Gosling practiced piano extensively, and that anytime you see him playing on screen, it's 100% him. One of the producers was also on the panel, but honestly, I really only wanted to hear Damien Chazelle speak truth into my soul.

All-in-all, the experience was fantastic, and I would do it again in a heartbeat. I'm trying to give myself more excuses to keep writing about this movie and this experience, but I'd just be indulging. Go see this movie. If you're willing to wait, I'm so down to see it with you.

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