A struggling actress in Los Angeles has a relationship with a jazz musician in Damien Chazelle's new musical, La La Land.
Fritz: The column title is Dueling Critics, but we should probably rename it Babbling, Gushing Critics for La La Land, which we both loved. Director Damien Chazelle followed up his brilliant Whiplash with a movie that's every bit its equal in quality, if not better.
What'd you love about it?
David: What I loved most about it is its sincerity. La La Land is a musical and, while it is an homage to the sparkling MGM musicals of the '40s and '50s, it never spoofs those films. With the risk of coming off as corny (it doesn't), Chazelle has made an honest to God musical and never once winks at the audience to come off as hip. This is a glorious movie! The musical numbers are high energy, the colors on screen pop (Emma Stone in that yellow dress!!), and the performances are perfect.
Why do you think this film works so well?
Fritz: The sincerity of the script, direction, and the actors is a big reason. It wears its heart on its sleeve without smothering the audience with sweetness. Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone once again have outstanding chemistry on screen. They're great together without it seeming like they're just rehashing their old performances (the relationship here is far different from the ones they share in Crazy, Stupid Love and Gangster Squad). Even in Gangster Squad, which is the weakest film of the three, they're still good together in it. Here, they have a film that rises to the level of their performances.
In 2014, Chazelle provided viewers with the most memorable ending of the year with Whiplash's climactic sequence. He does it again this year - and twice! The film climaxes with a solo song by Stone that she absolutely knocks out of the park (I think it should win the Oscar for Best Song, although the songs here are so good across the board that one of the others might win instead). But after the climax, there's an epilogue that manages to be life-affirming, happy, and sad at the same time. It's bittersweet in the truest sense of the word.
One thing you didn't touch on is the film's portrayal of Los Angeles. I've been to L.A. a few times and have found it to be a much more interesting city than it often appears to be on screen. Here, Chazelle's portrayal of Los Angeles is stylized, but it still makes L.A. seem like a living, breathing, fascinating place.
David: Well, I've been to L.A. once, and yes, the city feels much more alive and interesting here than the way it is portrayed in many other films.
Another stand out in La La Land is the flawless dance choreography (by choreographer Mandy Moore). Just check out that energetic opening number where struggling actors bust out into song and dance as they are stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic on the L.A. Freeway.
And Emma Stone really is America's sweetheart, and Chazelle obviously loves her too. He goes for lots of loving close-ups of that beautiful, adorable face. She just commands the screen.
As for the ending, you are right. It hits the right tone of bittersweet yet affirming.
Musicals are hard to do because it can easily come off as jarring or silly when someone bursts into song. In terms of direction, Chazelle is confident and strikes that perfect balance between the musical numbers and the drama of the story.
And I know there are people out there who will say that they just don't like musicals. Well, give La La Land a chance. I guarantee you will be glad you did.
Fritz: Yeah, I have some musicals I love (Singin' in the Rain, All That Jazz, some Disney films), but I'm by no means a big musicals/showtunes fan and I still think this is a terrific film.
Lastly, if readers are tired of films that are reboots, sequels, or part of a multiverse, then this is exactly the kind of film they should see in the theater. GO SEE THIS IN THE THEATER. YES, I'M SHOUTING.