La La Land – A Review

La La Land, starring Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, is a movie that explores the relationship between a struggling actress and a jazz musician who meet and fall in love in Los Angeles, California. The film was released on December 6, 2016, and has since won seven Golden Globes. The movie has also secured a record-tying fourteen Oscar nominations, marking the film as one of the most celebrated movies of all time.

Immediately, the film caught my attention as it opened with a high-energy musical number, “Another Day of Sun,” as people, caught in a typical L.A. traffic jam, started to do a dance up and down an elevated highway ramp. However, it was soon followed by several other amazing dance pieces, including a fast-paced tap number to the song “A Lovely Night” and a beautifully choreographed waltz to an orchestral piece titled “Planetarium.” Choreographed by Mandy Moore, best known for her work on So You Think You Can Dance and Dancing With the Stars, the dancing for the film was incredibly intricate. According to the Denver Post, the opening number alone required “dozens of cars, several stuntmen, 30 professional dancers and more than 100 extras to have perfect timing during long takes.” When asked about the piece, Moore stated, “I’m going to call it hashtag panic attack.”  

The music in the film was composed by Justin Hurwitz, with lyrics written by Benj Pasik and Justin Paul. The music in the film was simple but powerful, especially the song “City of Stars,” which was sung throughout the entirety of the film. It captured the simplistic elegance of the movie perfectly and really contributed to the story and the relationship between the characters. “City of Stars” won a Golden Globe for Best Original Song in a Motion Picture. In an interview, Hurwitz stated, “I was just composing it from an emotional place and thinking about the tone. I would say the tone is hopeful, but melancholy at the same time. And it kind of goes back-and-forth between cadencing in major and cadencing in minor, because I think that’s kind of what the song is about. You have these great moments, and then you have these less great moments in life and in Los Angeles and we see it happen in the story. I was thinking about that idea a little bit and just trying to compose a melody that I thought was shapely and beautiful.”

Damien Chazelle, known for his breakout debut film Whiplash—which won three Oscars and was nominated for five, including Best Picture, in 2014—directed and wrote the script for La La Land. Chazelle stated in an interview with The Guardian that “There [is] something to be said for having even unrealistic dreams. Even if the dreams don’t come true – that to me is what’s beautiful about Los Angeles. It’s full of these people who have moved there to chase these dreams. A lot of those people are told by people around them that they’re crazy, or that they’re living in la la land. I wanted to make a movie that saluted them a little bit, and that kind of unrealistic state of mind.”

With a score of 93% on Rotten Tomatoes and the critic’s consensus stating that the movie “breathes new life into a bygone genre with thrillingly assured direction, powerful performances, and an irresistible excess of heart,” the movie has continued to grow in popularity. As of Friday, January 27, La La Land became the top grossing limited release of 2016.

The film has also sparked positive responses from audience members. When asked about the film, Dorsey Ducharme (‘18) stated, “I loved La La Land because it put regular, struggling people in the context of a musical… the music also appeals to a wide variety of tastes, which brings much deserved light into the genre of jazz.” In addition, Michael Warker (‘17) stated, “ La La Land is a fairy tale that makes you question what truly is a happy ending, and the music is pretty catchy to boot! You get lost in the characters and songs, and the movie has stuck with me for weeks since I have seen it!”

As a musical-theatre nerd, La La Land was a movie that I adored. I thought that the dancing, acting, and music were incredibly well done, and I was impressed by the performances given by Stone and Gosling. Both Stone and Gosling had an incredibly strong sense of character, and they committed to the choreography and the music, never faltering once. In an interview with the Chicago Sun Times, Gosling talked about how he prepared for his role as a jazz pianist. He stated “I had always wanted to play piano well — so I got to learn a lot, and made strides toward that goal. It took three hours a day of practicing for three months. It was a lot of practicing, but it was well worth it.” In addition, all of the dance numbers in the movie took months of both individual and group rehearsal before getting to film. Moore personally gave dance instruction to both Stone and Gosling months before the film in order to help them develop dance training for the film and to teach them the choreography for the different numbers. Stone stated in a roundtable interview with Movies Online that, “I felt a lot of freedom. Everybody was so open, and we had so much time to rehearse that it was nice. Ryan and I were rehearsing with Mandy Moore, our choreographer. We were learning to tap dance, learning to ballroom dance, and she got to know how we were dancing in order to choreograph with us. It was the same with the music.” The work that the actors put into the movie was incredible to watch, and was something that set the movie apart.

La La Land had me on the edge of my seat the entire time, and I even noticed myself holding my breath in the last final moments of the film, anxious to see how the two characters would end up. I would recommend this film to anyone looking for a beautiful and heart-wrenching story that has the ability to make you connect to your own personal la la land.

Featured image courtesy of Lionsgate Films.

About the author

Olivia Laskin is a senior at Collegiate School.