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La La Land (10/10)

by Tony Medley

Runtime 128 Minutes.

OK for children.

I loved this movie. I can think of little to criticize. This is a sparkling homage to many things; vintage Hollywood musicals, particularly An American in Paris (1951), ‘50s Hollywood films, like Rebel Without a Cause (1955), Astaire & Rogers dance movies of the ‘30s, and the City of Los Angeles, just to name a few.

To highlight one aspect of the film would be to unfairly diminish other aspects, so I’ll just take them in no particular order.

The first is the acting. I am often blown away by the hidden talents of actors that we see playing straight acting roles. Who knew that Emma Stone (Mia) and Ryan Gosling (Sebastian) could sing and dance? But sing and dance they do. Maybe they are not going to make people forget Fred and Ginger, but what they do is captivating, especially one waltz that does not last nearly long enough.

Who knew that Ryan Gosling was such a talented pianist? While most films fake actors playing the piano by showing head and shoulder shots of them playing the piano or a shot of them playing the piano with the hands and the keys hidden. I’m told that Gosling has said he “practiced three months,” but, take it from me having played the piano almost all my life, you don’t play like this in 3 months (I still don’t), even if all you’re playing are a few bars. You still have to be able to hit the notes with both hands and that’s a lot more difficult than it sounds. Gosling has to have some native ability, especially if he picked it up this fast. This film takes pains to show that it is truly Gosling tickling the ivories. I was watching his fingers specifically to see if the notes he was hitting were the notes that were being played and they were. But I also did confirm that he actually was playing the piano in every scene.

Both Gosling and Stone give Oscar®–quality performances, especially Stone. Some of the really interesting scenes are of her in auditions where she has to go through a variety of emotions within the space of a few seconds. She is an outstanding actress, and this film, especially those scenes, exhibits her wide range.

As if the film needed more, what really stands out is the chemistry between the two. It sizzles when they are onscreen together, not unlike the chemistry between Gosling and Rachel McAdams in The Notebook (2004).

The original music (Justin Hurwitz) seemed enchanting to me. Generally it takes a while for a song or a series of songs to become familiar enough so you can hum their melodies and be truly enthralled. While I cannot at this point, hum any of the melodies, all I can tell you is that it could be the best score written for a movie since Lerner and Lowe’s Gigi (1958).

The cinematography (Linus Sandgren) captures the many different aspects of La La Land with some of the more extraordinary shots seen in recent cinema, especially the opening dance number of a freeway jam. But other locations jump out at you. When Mia first appears working as a barista, I was about to tell my guest that that was shot on the Warner Bros. back lot. Before I could do so, though, the film identified (for the purposes of the film) the location as a coffee shop on the lot. But that is truly where it was. Occasionally when I’m attending a screening at Warner Bros. I walk through the back lot and pass that intersection.

In another scene Mia is looking for her car and punching her remote to see if it would respond. Sebastian says to hold it next to her chin and it would give her more extended range. This is actually true, although you’re supposed to hold it next to your head. I’ve tried it and it works.

The script, by director Damien Chazelle, is exceptional. It is as romantic a tale as I have seen in a long time, and it is realistic, showing the ups and downs of romance. Even though the movie is more than two hours long, Chazelle directs it with such wonderful pace that the time passes too swiftly.

Now for the negative. In one of the opening scenes, Mia is in the shower and asks for a towel, which is thrown over the top of the shower door. Immediately she emerges from the shower wrapped in the towel. The only way that could happen that fast is if she were already wrapped in the towel when she asked for it. Small point, but it was a little jarring.

When you see how ridiculously petty this criticism is, you get a feeling for what a great movie this is. I want to see it again.