While I think reviewers were so thrilled to see something really original that they might have oversold it a bit, I very much enjoyed it. It's a colorful, creative film with a good score which celebrates musicals and the city of Los Angeles, at its shiny best. What's not to like?
The movie had me from the opening moments when the word "CinemaScope" was splashed across the screen, and I was charmed until the final "Made in Hollywood USA."
The opening number, "Another Day of Sun," finds our hero and heroine first crossing paths at the end of a song and dance on the freeway. Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) and Mia (Emma Stone) don't have a positive encounter this time around, but they soon will.
I'll pause here to note a couple minor things which pulled me "out of the movie" during "Another Day of Sun" -- first, why are the cars on both sides of a cement center divider headed the same direction? Second, the light changes noticeably toward the end of the number, letting the audience know that filming stretched into the afternoon.
Onward. Mia is an aspiring actress who works in a coffee joint on the Warner Bros. lot, which provides a great opportunity to show off the backlot, such as the street seen in CASABLANCA (1942), pictured below; a character even mentions the connection.
Mia and Sebastian cross paths again, eventually forming more positive impressions of each other and becoming a couple. But jazz pianist Sebastian has difficult decisions to make -- he can pay the bills with a lucrative gig traveling with a band, but it means deferring other dreams...and being away from Mia for extended periods of time.
I'll share two more critical comments here before moving on to the things I liked. First, the sound balancing was very inconsistent. Gosling and Stone, who are excellent in the film, are fine singers, but they don't have belter voices, and at times the instrumentals drown out their lyrics. My daughter, who saw it separately, also commented she had some trouble with that, so it appears to be an issue with the film itself and not a theater.
Second, the strum und drang of Mia and Seb's relationship problems undercuts the charm in the last third of the movie. While some have praised the plot's bittersweet aspects as keeping the movie "grounded," I felt those plot points were dangerously close to leaden; I think the movie should have had the courage of its convictions and gone full "MGM musical" for a completely happy ending.
With these caveats, I had a wonderful time at LA LA LAND and found much to love; its 128 minutes flew by. More movies like this, which combine appreciating cinema's past with taking risks and daring to be different from present-day films, would be a good thing.
Classic film fans will enjoy the film tremendously, from the posters on Mia's bedroom wall to the great L.A. locations to the previously mentioned tour of the Warner Bros. backlot.
Musical fans will enjoy the influences of Vincente Minnelli, Stanley Donen, Gene Kelly, and Jacques Demy. While a lengthy homage to AN AMERICAN IN PARIS (1951) at movie's end is most obvious -- indeed, Gene Kelly's widow Patricia was acknowledged in the end credits -- I also saw reflections of MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS (1944), ON THE TOWN (1949), THE BAND WAGON (1953), and more. It will be fun to go back to the film looking for additional bits inspired by favorite movies of years past.
LA LA LAND was filmed in gorgeous candybox colors by Linus Sandgren, with costume designs by Mary Zophres. The excellent score was composed by Justin Hurwitz. LA LA LAND was written and directed by Damien Chazelle.
LA LA LAND is very much recommended. This one is certain to end up on my DVD shelf a few months from now.
Parental Advisory: LA LA LAND is a very mild PG-13.
A trailer can be seen here.
Coming soon: A review of ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY (2016). (Here is the review.)