Those who’ve known me a long time, know that I used to write movie reviews. I actually started way back in the day for my high school paper, but continued until around 2010 as part of a column called Smart Hollywood for mediaite.com. Its been a while since I’ve put pen to paper (ok finger to iPad) to write about film, but I really do want to share my adoration for “La La Land.”
My enthusiasm runs deep for the film “La La Land,” and it has already received all of the awards hype and has been proclaimed the early film to beat. Last night the film won Best Picture at the Critics Choice Awards. But I’m writing to tell you non-believers out there, that in this case I believe the hype truly is justified. Now, lets not be mistaken, I don’t think this is the film that will “save Hollywood” or whatever that means. People are still going to theaters less, buying movies to own much less, and generally very happy to wait to see what shows up on HBO or Netflix and maintain the status quo as a passive viewer. But, if ever there was a movie that justified a trip to a theater, and one that is more than just a cinematic 3D videogame, that engages all of your senses and makes you fall in love with the movies all over again, its this one.
“La La Land” is magic. There I said it. As someone in the industry and as I objectively look at the elements that make up this movie, believe me, I would think there is no way this film should work as well as it does. Even the most optimistic version of the film that I would have envisioned, I still would have imagined would probably be a bit too clichéd or old fashioned. But every element adds up to a wholly original and captivating experience. Credit has to start at the top with the writer/director Damien Chazelle who has now officially cemented his wunderkind status following his breakthrough success a few years back with “Whiplash”. There is a very real probability Damien will be holding an Oscar come February for his work on this Picture, and if this film earns any Oscars, it all points back to his work and vision. The retro style, the color palette, the obvious affection for LA and the struggling artists who inhabit – that all comes from Damien. And boy does he know how to stage a musical number. Ok, scratch that, many musical numbers.
Oh yeah, there’s the rub, this is a musical, and its set up is as old-fashioned as it could get. Boy meets Girl. Can the boy and girl find love while also chasing their dreams in Hollywood? Sounds like you’ve seen this one a million times right? But you haven’t. Honest. Trust me friends, I’m not waxing nostalgic for “Singin’ in the Rain” or any of the musicals from my parent’s heyday either. But this film is a perfect musical. It’s a completely modern take, using the most advanced film techniques and camera work imaginable. Yet somehow, on one level it does serve as a loving tribute to the musicals of another era (clearly many of which directly inspired Chazelle and the choices he makes), while at the same time opening the door to the genre for generations to come as Chazelle imprints it with his own personal stamp.
If I haven’t made myself clear yet, I do think “La La Land” is an instant classic and right now (after having seen it twice) I can easily say its one of the best films I’ve seen in this century. In case you care, others on that list for me include “Almost Famous”, “Gladiator”, “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”, “Anchorman”, and “The Dark Knight”. The chemistry between Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling is undeniable. They’ve done 3 films together at this point, but it might be tough for them to do another after this one, just because the lasting impact this film has and how we will associate them with their characters “Mia” and “Sebastian”. Speaking of that impact, now no spoilers I promise, but the ending of this movie really got me. I mean, wow. I think part of the reason I love the film so much is how Chazelle put together that final sequence and the performances by Emma and Ryan.
Both leads here have imperfect singing voices, which just makes this movie feel more real – and which reality serves as a nice juxtaposition as some of the song and dance sequences couldn’t be more fantastical. What’s immensely clear is that Emma and Ryan have talent and charm to spare and this movie utilizes their star qualities to the max. There is a scene early on in the film as Mia and Sebastian come upon a beautiful scenic spot in the Hollywood Hills with all of La La Land below them on the horizon during the magic hour of sunset. They each tentatively break into a song about experiencing such a lovely view, if only they could be in the company of someone they could enjoy it with. The more they sing about their disdain for each other, the more obvious it is that they are falling for each other – and then they start dancing with each other in a sequence perfectly choreographed by Mandy Moore (no, not the one you are thinking) and the chemistry between the two is palpable and hypnotic. It’s truly a beautiful sequence and just one of many showstoppers in the film. Chazelle loves long takes, avoiding quick cuts and edits (a mainstay in movie musicals since the birth of MTV) at all costs. At least one of the big song and dance numbers was actually shot all in one take, where the choreography of the camerawork even outshined the singing and dancing on screen.
I’m nearing 1000 words, and I really haven’t scratched the surface of my thoughts or acknowledged the work of the outstanding composer (Chazelle’s longtime friend Justin Hurwitz) or the incredibly talented songwriters (Benj Pasek and Justin Paul) but I feel like they are all locks for Oscar gold in 2017 so they will certainly not be lacking for recognition. Before I ramble on any further, I think its best to know your audience and not overstay your welcome. This movie is a full two hours and change, but for me never overstayed its welcome. See it this weekend in NY and LA, and next weekend everywhere else. See it on the big screen where its meant to be seen as it was shot in wide screen cinemascope. Go escape to the movies and be reminded why you fell in love with movies in the first place.
Enjoy a preview of La La Land.
Jonathan Fuhrman is currently Executive Vice President, Business Affairs at Thunder Road Pictures, producer of John Wick, Sicario, and the upcoming John Wick: Chapter 2 in theaters February 10, 2017. Previously, Jonathan worked at The Weinstein Company on such films as The Silver Linings Playbook, The Reader, and Rob Zombie’s Halloween. His writing can also be found on Mediaite.com.