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La La Land (2016) Reviewed By Jay

United States, 25 December 2015


Jay´s Review

To win People's Choice at the 2016 Toronto Film Festival means someone did something right. The opening scene is a huge traffic jam on an L.A. freeway. A realistically diverse mix of people climb out of their vehicles and start a giant dance, a la "Fame." This is only the first of many scenes where writer/director Damien Chazelle (Oscar nomination for "Whiplash") pays homage with a tip of the hat to well-known and much-loved cinematic moments. 


This PG-13 film has so much to recommend it I scarcely know where to start. I think I'll first mention the two lead actors, then talk about some of the elements. We watch:

  • * Ryan Gosling ("The Nice Guys") as Sebastian, a jazz pianist, is trying to gain a foothold in the competitive L.A. music scene. He frustrates his agent because he refuses to compromise his "pure" jazz. By the way, Gosling worked two hours per day for six weeks, learning the music. What we see in the film is Gosling doing his own work, no hand doubles were injured during the filming...smile...
  • * Emma Stone ("The Help") Mia is a struggling actress squeezing in auditions while working as a barista who sells coffee to movie stars. Stone does much of the heavy lifting: we watch as she conveys various emotions from glee to despair all in a single take. In addition, she surprised me with her dancing. I knew Gosling could dance, after all, he was a Mouseketeer, but they did one scene that doesn't seem to have any cuts. A single-take dance duet hasn't been done since Fred Astaire.
  • * I don't want to shortchange John Legend, Rosemary DeWitt and J.K. Simmons, but they are always good! This time is no different.

Now I want to talk about the film. This is clearly a fantastical Los Angeles from the get-go, but we love seeing familiar sights: The freeways; the movie sound-stages; the Griffith Observatory; The Angels' Flight; the pier at Long Beach; the Lighthouse restaurant at Hermosa Beach; the overlook above the city lights; Chateau Marmont; plus other venues that will be recognizable only to locals and purists. Not being either one, I must thank generous hosts who have taken me to these memorable spots while visiting. Thanks!

The romantic dance between our two leads evokes memories of Astaire/Charisse in "Bandwagon," while the waterside scene reminded me of Kelly/Caron by the Seine in "American in Paris." The movie sets  hinted at "Singinin the Rain" and the balloons gave me a flashback to the Audrey Hepburn fashion shoot in "Funny Face." The silhouettes made me think of "Jailhouse Rock" and the four gals dancing brought back "Sweet Charity." Guess who grew up on old-fashioned movie musicals!

Okay, you know the drill, Boy meets Girl, Boy loves Girl, Boy Loses... Oh, just buy a ticket. You'll see bittersweet moments, along with moments of pure joy. You will be treated to great jazz, wonderful scenery, a haunting musical theme, terrific acting, great choreography, and a longing for Do-overs!

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