Movie Review – La La Land

La La Land


La La Land

Review by John Pecora

I’ve only gotten “emotional” at the end of a few films, and it’s probably no coincidence that they all have a special place on my favorites list. The final scene of Field of Dreams was the first time I remember welling up in a theatre, and of all the times I’ve seen Casablanca, the part at the airport still gets me wiping my eyes and swallowing hard. This past weekend I had another sensitive experience with Damien Chazelle’s La La Land when I spent the last five minutes of the movie crying sitting next to my teenage daughter.

Chazelle wrote, produced and directed what I found to be a pretty perfect movie and is now incredibly accomplished at the age of 31, having come off of also writing, directing and receiving Oscar nominations for Whiplash in 2014.

La La Land

La La Land is a musical, but don’t allow any prejudice against musicals prevent you from seeing it. The musical numbers work easily into the movie and aren’t overdone – the film is mostly acting (not an opera) and the songs that are in the movie are catchy and have their place. “Someone in the Crowd” is fun, “A Lovely Night” is funny, and “City of Stars” & “Audition” set the tone for the main characters Mia (Emma Stone) and Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) as two dreamers looking to break through in Los Angeles as an actress and classic jazz musician, respectively. Stone and Gosling are amazing in their third movie together and have easy, natural and believable on screen chemistry. It’s probably difficult for two well-known Hollywood types to pull off the starving artist role, but they both do it to perfection and become Mia and Seb.

Two hours and eight minutes flew by as I watched this, and it was one of those theatre experiences where you realize while you are seeing it that you might be watching an all-time classic. I was rooting for the film’s finale, not wanting to be disappointed by the ending. Chazelle delivered.

La La Land

Casablanca had previously and probably still is atop my list of personal favorite films, but La La Land is now in the conversation for second, maybe because it has so many similarities. I feel like Chazelle must have been intentional about at least some of this. Casablanca was a Warner Brothers film and Mia’s job early in the film is as a barista in a coffee shop on the WB lot. Later, as Mia is touring Seb around the studio, she shows him the window and balcony from which Rick and Ilsa could see Paris. Because it gets referenced directly, comparing Rick/Ilsa to Mia/Seb becomes fun, and I’m looking forward to seeing La La Land again to see if I find more parallels or if it’s just something I wanted to see.

La La LandThe second easiest nod to Casablanca was the wall-sized poster of lead actress Ingrid Bergman.

Bad pun time: The piano plays a key role in both films. In Casablanca, Sam plays “As Time Goes By”, which is the song for Rick and Ilsa that meant something to them in happier days…and brings misery later. “Mia and Sebastian’s Theme” does the same in La La Land, played faster and fun when they meet, then very slow and meaningful in the epilogue.

Sebastian’s dream is not just to be a jazz musician, but to save jazz by opening a bar dedicated to its classic form. Mia designs a logo for him naming his dream “Seb’s” (very reminiscent of “Rick’s”). Late in La La Land, the epilogue contains a for-sure nod to Ilsa walking into Rick’s. Casablanca had the classic “of all the gin joints” quote, and you could see that forlorn look on Sebastian’s face as his thoughts played out in the drawn out, sad version of “Mia and Sebastian’s Theme” on the piano.

La La Land

While not much of either film takes place in Paris, the city is central to both films. “We will always have Paris” is played out in the La La Land epilogue – similar to the Casablanca‘s flashback montage of Rick and Ilsa’s time in the City of Light.

The closing of both Casablanca and La La Land have the couples both professing undying love to each other, reminding us that in real life, love is complicated, hard to find, and sometimes both amazing and tragic at the same time.

Great music, great acting, great cinematography and a classic love story. Classics aren’t meant to be watched at home – go to the theater and have your own emotional experience with La La Land.

Directed by: Damien Chazelle
Release Date: December 9, 2016
Run Time: 128 Minutes
Rating: PG-13
Country: USA
Distributor: Lionsgate

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