Yeah, there's an F-bomb. But this is a PG-13 movie through and through.
DIRECTOR: Damien Chazelle
It sold me immediately with the "Cinemascope" opening. That's really all it takes for me. (That might be a commentary on how I'm a poor critic more than anything else, but details make me super happy.) Musicals and I have an interesting relationship. Not terribly long ago, I reviewed Calamity Jane and hated it. I thought it was devoid of substance and very generic. But movies like La La Land are somehow extremely special. I honestly hope the fact that it is something of value in itself and not due to nostalgia and lack of competition. It doesn't really hurt that tap and waltz are the type of dance. Again, I'm a very superficial human being.
Damien Chazelle is starting to define himself as the "jazz guy". I loved Whiplash and you can definitely see that his directing style comes out of discussing things he's passionate about. While I don't want to see another jazz movie coming out of this guy, that passion translates out to making a movie that he is clearly very attached to. It is the passion project that really makes me swoon as an audience member. The fact that he honestly loves this movie is in every single cut and light on that set. I will always be a little sad about the still I pulled for the top of this review because there are so many good shots in this film and they all make me second guess what I was doing to begin with. It is an extraordinarily gorgeous movie both in visuals and in tone. Chazelle loves these characters. I get the vibe that Chazelle is Gosling's character and Stone is someone who got away. There is such an angst with everything that is being filmed that I can't help but think that this is some form of musical therapy. But maybe he is just that good of a director. It just seems like a wild coincidence that we have one guy who is totally into jazz and one girl who is totally into cinema and that is being written and directed by someone who directs movies about jazz. Just saying. It doesn't hurt my theory to point out that Stone's character writes her own play. Again, just saying.
I'm fanboying over Gosling at this point. I gushed over him in The Nice Guys and now I'm all "he can do anything." My wife said that he was character singing, as was Stone. Yeah, perhaps neither has the most amazing voice in the world, but the production itself is beautiful. Both performances really sell the characters and a not-perfect voice really doesn't sully it. I think I'm often very forgiving of singing talent because singing is hard and the movie gets to be way better when I shut my brain off. In terms of singing, there is a little bit of clunkiness when it comes to the intense dance numbers with a huge cast. The dubbing is a bit obvious in these numbers, which is a shame because those scenes are awesome. (Also, a round of applause to the Emmy cold open for recreating this sequence.) Perhaps the smaller songs are dubbed as well, but they seemed far more organic when it was just Gosling and Stone.
Let's also establish that I'm a sucker for the dream ballet. I'm looking at you, An American in Paris. The Dream Ballet really defines what this movie is all about. This is a movie about the magic of Hollywood. It is about creation and art not just for financial gain, but for the beauty of art in itself. Yes, Stone goes out of the Dangerous Minds role, but we quickly see the cheapness and artificiality of the whole situation. These are two artists who struggle to create art. And sure, they're in love, but that love stems out of an admiration for each other. I always get depressed teaching my first period bell because I have to sell artistic passion for kids who desperately want to be in bed. But seeing these characters geek out on each other about what they love is fantastic. These are the movies that makes me want to go out and experience new things. I wanted to be in that jazz club and discover how musicians fight over the solo. I want to work on a Hollywood backlot and see Roman centurions walk past my coffee shop. Neither of these is practical, but that's what passion is all about. It is about passion. That's what Chazelle is really selling: passion. Whiplash is the dark side of passion, but it is about passion regardless. La La Land is the warmer side and I just love that it exists.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.