Kernel Rating (out of 5):
MPAA Rating: PG-13 Length: 128 minutes
Age Appropriate For: 13+. This musical about two artists falling in love in Los Angeles has some kissing, unmarried characters living together, some drinking, and one use of the f-word and some rude gestures. Aside from the romantic tension, there is also a recurring discussion of the value of creativity vs. compromise, which could go over the head of younger viewers but may speak to humanities-interested teenagers.
‘La La Land’ is an exquisitely made escapist fantasy, the kind of movie that simultaneously soothes like a balm and cuts like a knife. The flawless performances from Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling make this musical one of the best films of the year.
By Roxana Hadadi
“La La Land” is a love letter. This adoring ode to Hollywood, musicals, and creative dreams walks a fine line between whimsical and critical, serving up song and dance numbers that will excite you and then wreck you, and a central romance that will enthrall and then destroy. Emma Stone gives the best performance of her career and Ryan Gosling will launch a thousand memes, and “La La Land” is one of the must-see movies of this holiday season.
The film begins with Mia (Stone, of “Aloha”), a struggling actress who pays her bills working at a coffee shop on a studio lot. She goes to audition after audition, trying for roles as a teacher and a police officer and whatever else, and nothing seems to be working. At Hollywood parties, her roommates can schmooze and talk up writers and producers, but Mia isn’t cut out for that—she just wants to act.
One night, after her Prius (of course) gets towed, she wanders into a restaurant, where she sees Sebastian (Gosling, of “The Ides of March”)—who recently gave her the finger in a Los Angeles traffic jam—but who here is clearly in his element, pounding away on a piano. He gets fired for deviating from the holiday set list that the restaurant owner had provided, and when Mia tries to compliment him, he brushes her off, furthering the divide between them.
But then it’s another party, this time poolside, and Mia—still unsuccessful in her auditions—is shocked to see Sebastian playing keyboards for a bad ‘80s cover band. They strike up a conversation, and then they dance together in the moonlight, and then he comes to see her at work, and then they fall in love.
For a while, things are great: Mia starts writing; Sebastian lands a steady gig with a jazz group that is experimenting with electronic music; and the two move in together. Little fissures caused by reality, though, start appearing. Mia struggles to explain Sebastian’s dream of opening a jazz club to her mother. Sebastian feels compromised by the music he’s playing. And while Mia is challenging herself by writing her own play, the threat of failure is always there—the possibility that no one, anywhere, will care about what either of them is doing. They’re both dreaming big, but a place like Hollywood relies on dreams without ever having to fulfill them. That’s the allure, and also the threat.
“La La Land” starts off grand with a musical number set during traffic on a Los Angeles freeway, and writer and director Damien Chazelle creates those magical moments throughout the film: that first dance between Stone and Gosling; their first date, watching “Rebel Without a Cause” and then waltzing at the climactic planetarium from the film; Stone’s elastic face, manipulating itself into grins, smirks, and grimaces through a parade of auditions; Gosling’s look of shock and defeat during a heartbreaking scene in the final act of the film.
It’s impossible to imagine anyone but Stone and Gosling in these roles, and the chemistry they’ve cultivated over various films together is on full blast here. You desperately, painfully want them to be together, and “La La Land” sweeps you up in its love story while still paying service to its exploration of artistic integrity vs. unfulfilling compromise.
What is worth fighting for? What is worth giving up? The danger of that bargain is always present in “La La Land,” lurking under the riotously colorful dance sequences and the heartbreaking sadness of the song “City of Stars.” It’s a difficult question, but “La La Land” explores it beautifully and harrowingly. This is one of the best of the year.
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