I’ve never been big on musicals. Like most guys my age, I was in the prime demographic when Johnny Depp swung silver razors through throats in Sweeney Todd nearly a decade ago but other than that I never really got it. I could sit through them, saw classics and such that are basically required viewing and I’ll sing “The Bare Necessities” with the best of them when called for, but the whole song and dance routine was never for me.
I get it now. I think. I don’t know for sure, but this was an incredible film.
Damien Chazelle’s La La Land opened up for those of us who aren’t invited to film festivals (or live in cool enough cities to get early screenings) and I finally got to see it. I can without a doubt, and with no holds barred, say that this is probably my favorite film of the year. I don’t think I can say it’s the one I’ve enjoyed the most, though it was incredibly enjoyable from the opening moments to the roll of the credits. I don’t think it would be something I could call the most brilliant thing I saw all year, though it is in a way that I had no clue I would give it credit for. No, this is wondrous for many other reasons.
I could wax poetic about the performances, the song and dance numbers performed by our lead couple – Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, who have worked together twice before with fantastic chemistry. Watching these two tap dance and gaze adoringly into each other’s eyes while they sing about having no attraction to each other is perhaps one of the cutest things I’ve ever seen in a film not made by Wes Anderson. Listening as these to go from antagonistic attraction to…well, where they end up, that whole journey is mesmerizing and tugs at the heartstrings of anyone who has felt a burning love for another human being.
Seriously, little I’ve seen this year has been as beautiful as the two of them singing to each other, asking if the “City of Stars” shines for them alone, acknowledging that all anyone is truly looking for is love.
There are other incredible appearances in the film, from John Denver to JK Simmons, but none have the impact that these two have. They lead the film and deservedly so. I’ve admired these two for a good while, but I’ve never seen them do anything like this and honestly had no idea they had it in them.
These two clearly put a ton of effort into preparing for this film. They are having so much fun with each other, flirting and laughing together. I’ve sat through so many films with performances that have acceptable chemistry, characters that work together that are just fine. It has been a bit since I saw something where I saw two people really convey that they were having fun, falling for each other, and really drawn to each other this way and who would have thought I found it in a musical, where so much is meant to feel staged?
This is the wonderful non-sequitur sensation in the film. While the entire thing feels phony and staged, so many backgrounds blatantly painted and ridiculous dance numbers breaking not only in the street but even while floating into the air, the entirety of the film feels so brutally honest. We busy ourselves worrying about subtlety and nuance, about layers and stories that are built as puzzle boxes or enigmas to be solved, about open endings that leave us wondering for days after we have seen the film, that we have forgotten what it feels like to watch something with such a simplistic honesty that we cannot help but grasp the concept of the film entirely from one viewing. Everything is there, right on the surface, and the discussion on Hollywood and the desperation of those on the bottom rung is just as important as the relationship between Sebastian (Gosling) and Mia (Stone) but one clearly takes precedence over the other and this, in the end, is the most wonderful decision Chazelle could have made.
There’s nothing to really spoil except for how it all turns out and I’m not going to be the one to do that. The only thing I have left to say is that this is an incredible film that everyone should be watching. I laughed, I teared up (ok, I cried at one point), and I had a wonderful time watching the relationship between this aspiring actress and wannabe Jazz musician. Chazelle’s love for that genre of music really drove Whiplash and while I was unsure what to think of this going in I have to say that it really added a great bit to this as well. As a massive Star Wars fan, as a film fan, as someone who loves Denzel Washington and really thought well of his directorial effort I have to say…if you see one thing this Christmas, it should be this. You won’t be disappointed, I don’t think anyone hates musicals enough to not let this one in. Open your heart and watch Gosling and Stone wear theirs’ on shirtsleeves, it’s worth your time.