La La Land Movie Review

Damien Chazelle's musical isn’t just about love. It’s also about the price of success and the scars of struggle. It stars Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone.

Anupama Chopra
Anupama Chopra

December 16, 2016

FC Rating

★★★★★

Director: Damien Chazelle

Cast: Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone

Have you ever seen a film with a smile on your face? You know, you’re just sitting there in the dark with a goofy grin. That was me in the first hour of La La Land. And then this magical love story smashed my heart to smithereens. La La Land is a miracle of a movie. It’s pure, unadulterated cinematic bliss.

Because La La Land isn’t just about love. It’s also about the price of success and the scars of struggle. It’s about dreams and ambition and the choices you make. Damien Chazelle, who has written and directed the film, isn’t content to merely have us swoon. He begins with wonder and delight but then inserts a deep and abiding melancholy. You walk away immersed in the music, the colors, the seamless, gliding camera movements and the incredible artistry of the leads – Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling. But you also walk away with a profound ache. I was smiley and sad. And I just wanted to see it again.

La La Land is the story of two strugglers. Mia is an actor. Seb is a jazz musician. She works in a café and goes from one brutal audition to another. He plays Christmas tunes on the piano surrounded by diners who aren’t listening to him. When they find each other, it’s glorious. At one point, during a musical number, they are dancing among the stars. It’s so sublime that I found myself getting teary. La La Land isn’t shy about artifice – the bright colors, vivid production design and poppy costumes create a carefully choreographed fantasy. Which is grounded by an emotional reality that wrenches your heart out.

In one scene, Mia wonders if perhaps she simply isn’t good enough to make it. Stone’s face crumples in hurt. She’s absolutely stunning. Gosling is more tempered and inward. But their chemistry is as consistent as the LA weather – as a running joke, the film is divided into seasons but this is LA so no matter what the month is, it’s bright, blue skies and sunshine.

The music by Justin Hurwitz is integral to making the narrative soar. The film opens with a joyous, show-stopping number, which take place on a traffic-choked freeway.  A moment of frustration turns to pure delight.

La La Land feels both old and new. It’s escapist and enchanting and must not be missed.