Review: ‘La La Land’ Mesmerizing, Breathtaking, And Brilliant

While films about an intergalactic rebellion and ones about bare-chested demi-gods from the Pacific appear to be dominating the box-office, it’s shocking that other genres of movies even have a place in the current cinematic climate.  With Rogue One: A Star Wars Story poised to bring in close to 200 million dollars in its opening weekend and Moana showing little signs of slowing down, it appears audiences are drawn to more flash than substance. However, let me take a second to urge everyone to step away from the lightsabers, snap out of the hypnotic trance that drives us all to give even more money to Disney, and check out a film which transports audiences back to the golden age of Hollywood, La La Land.

Damien Chazelle’s La La Land is a sensational musical about dreamers and the passion two people have to see their dreams become a reality in the toughest town of them all, Hollywood. Most musicals are heavily song driven (mainly because they are based on some Broadway show), it appears Chazelle’s latest film is the exception. Rather than a big gaudy song/dance numbers like we’ve seen in ChicagoLa La Land puts the emphasis on the fluidity of the dancers and the choreography of both the male and female leads. There is a surprising amount of simplicity in the film, and that allows the audience to turn our attention to what matters in the movie rather than lose focus.

What was utterly surprising to me was the amount narrative that was present in the movie.One might have the perception (as unbelievable as this might seem) that if a movie is a musical, then it’s all about the music and less about the actual story. Chazelle show the audience that one doesn’t have to even utter a sound to be able to project a feeling or an emotion that one might be feeling. The movement in this film is heartfelt and certainly purposeful. What was noticeable is unlike any other musicals that I’ve seen in recent years, we could see the whole body of the person who was dancing each number. These type of shots reminded me Gene Kelly and Debbie Reynolds in Singing in The Rain. 

La La Land centers around the story of Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) and Mia ( Emma Stone). Two star-crossed dreamers who have aspirations of making an impact in Hollywood. Sebastian wants to use his passion for music and open up a Jazz club while Mia dreams of becoming the next A-list actress. Gosling and Stone have such chemistry with one another that it made me wonder why they haven’t done more projects together over the years. Gosling and Stone demonstrate such a commitment to the film. Neither came from a music background but each throws themselves into their roles with such ferocity, and the spark those two generate on screen engages even the most skeptical in the crowd.

Could they have cast two people who say a bit more talented when it came to either dancing or singing? Sure, but this movie wouldn’t nearly have been as fantastic. Chazelle didn’t just need two A-list actors; he needed these two particular A-list actors. La La Land is about the passion we all have to achieve the grandest of dreams and how life sometimes can get in the way of that. Gosling and Stone were not only the best choices to help project that passion but to show that when life derails, you’ve got to keep pushing to get things you desire.

So while seeing Darth Vader’s return is cool, it doesn’t even come close to how special seeing a film like La La Land. It’s unlike any movie I’ve seen released or will see released in the near future. It most certainly will garner much attention during awards season and leave audience members humming a happy tune in the end.

Dewey Singleton - Film Critic
Dewey Singleton - Film Critic
I'm a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association and have been doing reviews for many years. My views on film are often heard in markets such as Atlanta, Houston, and satellite radio. My wife often tolerates my obsession for all things film related and two sons are at an age now where 'Trolls' is way cooler than dad. Follow me on twitter @mrsingleton.