Keshav Srinivasan’s review published on Letterboxd:
Man, this year has been rough. On top of all of the political stuff that's been going on, my personal life has been going through a couple rough patches and it's getting harder and harder to stay optimistic. Thank God this movie came along.
La La Land is a soaring accomplishment, a tap dance with a sad smile. It's a love song to living and loving and dreaming. A deliriously colorful experience of swirling camera movements, stunning set pieces, and heartfelt music. It is also the best movie of the year. Sorry Silence.
It's a tad difficult to gather my thoughts after leaving the theater feeling so lightheaded, but I'll try my best.
La La Land tells the story of two dreamers who delight in spitting in the face of reality. Emma Stone plays Mia, a struggling actress working at a coffee shop. Transcending the usual "small town girl with big dreams" archetype, she plays a character that's equally hampered by her own self doubt as she is from the difficulty of getting recognized. This is, hands down, Emma Stone's best performance. Oozing pure charisma, her heart and soul can be heard in every line, every smile, every movement in her body. It's a joyous performance that feels fleet of foot and lighter than air.
Ryan Gosling plays Sebastian, a pianist that dreams of opening a jazz club. Sebastian is a force of pure optimism, filled with a desire to pursue his dreams, no matter the setbacks. Gosling is really able to sell this character's love for jazz too. The scene where Sebastian breaks down why he loves jazz to Mia is played so convincingly and charmingly that those who wouldn't normally be into the genre would be well won over.
These two are taken on one helluva ride. One thing I really loved about the way the plot was constructed was that it never really felt like there was a traditional 3 act structure. Rather, it felt like a series of events in these two characters' lives, and we watch their relationship go through its ups and downs throughout. This gives the story a strong sense of... I hesitate to say realism, but perhaps relatability. And that really is what gets at the core of what makes La La Land so great. Yes, it's style is pure Hollywood glitz and glamour, not to mention that it's a musical. But Stone and Gosling's voices are so achingly human, filled with these beautiful little imperfections. It doesn't feel like professional singers dubbed over them with their perfectly glossy voices, it really is them singing. It all adds to this great, scrappy, underdog quality that the movie sells so well. Its done in a very romantic fashion, but its themes are something that everyone can relate to.
And I really do mean everyone, not just people getting into the arts like me. Because here's the reality of it all: any dream worth fighting for is always going to be soul crushingly difficult. Whether its being a filmmaker, a nuclear physicist, a writer, a parent, an actress, or a jazz pianist. Being a success in anything is going to require years upon years of constant struggle and hardship. But if you're going to bash your head against the wall, you might as well do it with a smile on your face.