La La Land
This film is an absolute crowd-pleaser! A feel good musical rom-com that hits all the right notes and beats. The chemistry between the winsome and enchanting Emma Stone and the charismatic old-school suaveness of Ryan Gosling was as electrifying as Damien Chazelle's superb directing! A serious award contender especially for Best Film, Chazelle (writer/director) and Stone (actress).
Reminiscent of the charms of The Artist and the insider-look of Birdman, La La Land has a serious shot to be the first original musical to win the Oscar for Best Picture in a long, long time (Chicago - a Broadway transplant - won in 2006).
This is not to say this film is without it flaws. If Stone and Gosling could belt it out as well as they act then this film would be even better. But at the same time, their - especially Gosling's - thin vocals had been used by Chazelle to the advantage of the film to make the story that he is telling seemed all that more sincere, honest and raw.
As much as I applaud the originality of the musical, the lyrics could use a bit more polishing and finesse as compared to Justin Hurwitz delightful music. At times the songs sound like one of those television dramas, musical-episode moments. Paging Joss Whedon...
The pacing of the story was also a bit problematic, especially in the middle. After a terrific start , the film seemed to meander about deciding if it wants to be a full blown musical or a film with songs (think John Carney's Once or Begin Again). Thankfully, the brilliant acting and directing helped to distract from that.
Chazelle's directing was really fantastic here. And his love of Jazz is apparent and infectious, even more so than his breakout hit Whiplash. The use of long one-take single shots was superb and really helped to sell the vibrancy and energy of the musical. By choosing to tell the story in a musical-like style was both a bane and a boon (see the para above) but Chazelle kept the pacing tight, the emotions honest and comedy spontaneous and light. But yet, it still felt like this would have made a better stage production than film. Odd isn't it?
Stone was luminous. She is a serious contender for Best Actress this year. The only thing going against her is that her character lacked complexity. However, Stone brought an unexpected depth in an otherwise plain character with her expressive eyes and winsome personality that shone through. Stone made her character relatable. And that is not an easy feat to do, even in a rom-com setting.
Gosling, unfortunately, was overshadowed by Stone. His obviously weaker vocals did not help him too. But, what really worked for him was easy charm and affability, and that electrifying chemistry between him and Stone. Similarly, he brought a relatability to his role and an old school, James Dean-esque sincerity to win the audience over.
Justin Hurwitz did the music and his theme was spot-on, making him a strong contender for an Oscar for Best Score (although Johann Johannsson is a really strong contender for Arrival). Linus Sandgren lensed the film and shooting with cinemascope really gave the film a vintage look that was authentic and romantic.
The one biggest misstep was John Legend. Unnecessary interlude and stunt casting that really distracted from the leads. Legend can sing. And it showed how Gosling and Emma really can't.
<Spoiler> I loved the ending. I loved the bitter-sweetness of it all and the commentary that it echoes about Real Life and real life. Hollywood vs Reality. And yet, the film still felt good. One leaves the film feeling hopeful and positive and that really is the power of cinema. Kudos to Chazelle whom so effectively achieved it, while making it all seemed so effortlessly. </end Spoiler>
A fantastic film.