La La Land

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I had the very good pleasure of seeing La La Land in an advance screening last night. While I was waiting in line, this little, old man had just come down the escalators after seeing a movie. He walks over, looks at the sign for the film, looks at me, and smiles ear to ear.

“Are you seeing La La Land tonight?”

I smile and nod. He leans in closer and whispers, “You know, Ryan Gosling was born in Canada. He used to sing and dance all the time — and now he gets to do it again!”

Then he grinned, shook his head, and walked out of my life.

A promising start to the evening.

Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) is a hapless but tremendously talented jazz pianist. Mia (Emma Stone) is an aspiring actor who just can’t find the right part. Together, they are a whole heap of unrecognized potential and both just looking for that one thing that’s missing. That’s kind of all anybody’s doing, but Hollywood is not for the faint of heart and the rejection can be quite harrowing.

A happy distraction is just what the doctor ordered, and Sebastian and Mia find it in one another. Where the trouble begins is coincidentally the same place the two had been working so hard to get to before they found each other. It begs the question: does one sacrifice an unbelievable, unicorn opportunity for love, or vice versa? If you can’t have both, which one has to go?

Do star-crossed lovers have a shot?

When club owner, Bill (a delightfully perturbed J.K. Simmons) fires Sebastian for ignoring the provided song list and playing his own stuff, he winds up playing a Casio keyboard in a tacky cover band. Slightly directionless, he meets Mia. A young, ambitious woman who is chasing her dreams of gracing the silver screen. In championing her , he lights a fire under himself to have his own jazz club where he can play whatever he likes.

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Meanwhile, Mia is working in a coffee shop on a studio lot with movies filming all around her. It’s the closest she can get to starring in pictures at the moment and sates the immediate desire while she goes to audition after audition.

When Sebastian is approached by his old friend, Keith (John Legend), to play piano in his band, the offer comes with one stipulation; sacrificing the music he’s passionate about for lots and lots of money. So much money, in fact, that it affords him the opportunity to let Mia quit the coffee shop and focus on auditions. No longer struggling to make ends meet, Mia is free to pursue acting, but what good is any of it when they never see each other? Love is fickle that way. It’s marvelous to have but tricky to manage.

When Sebastian begins to lose sight of his club dream, Mia becomes frustrated and overwhelmed at her own failings and their once super solid foundation begins to shake and crumble.

La La Land resurrects the likes of Singin’ in the Rain, High Society, and Funny Face. What’s really neat about this film, though, is that it’s the classic musical vibe set in present day. With iPhones and Priuses and such. It is vibrant and captivating, replete with lively dance numbers, witty and engaging songs, and natural, genuine, heartfelt performances.

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Emma and Ryan bring something so candid and organic to the picture. To everything, really, but the two of them in this movie are some kind of magic. Separately and together, they both bring it all to life in a seemingly effortless manner. They’ve always been fun to watch together, but this is another level. Not only do you believe them, but you’re pulling for them. There was a grown man sitting a couple of seats away from me, stifling sobs at one point. You want them to win.

As for writer/director Damien Chazelle — YOU ARE YOUNGER THAN I AM. HOW ARE YOU SO BRILLIANT?! Enjoy your Oscar, ya bloody bastard. Chazelle absolutely killed it with Whiplash (2014), earning an Oscar nod and a whole slew of other, well-deserved accolades. I very much look forward to whatever pours out of that beautiful brain of his next.

The film’s composer, Justin Hurwitz — I dunno how old he is but he looks like he’s younger than me, too. The John Williams to Chazelle’s Spielberg, Hurwitz composed on both Whiplash and La La Land. Being the score junkie that I am, this music touched my soul. It’ll lift you up one moment and break your heart the next. The opening number got a round of applause in the theater. Probably would’ve gotten a standing ovation if we weren’t all so lazy. It kicks the movie into high gear right away and only continues to deliver one sublime song after another.

Damien and Justin — if you’re reading this — please just always work together forever. Alone you are both great people and whatever, but together, you are a treasure too pure for this world.

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La La Land is dazzling, sharp, poignant, and radiant from top to bottom. This is one of those movies that people say you need to see in the theater. For real though? See it in the theater. It’s an experience to be had and it consumes you. Just let it happen. La La Land hits theaters this Friday, December 16th. GO. The soundtrack can be found on iTunes and Spotify, to name a couple of options. I’ll just be over here listening to it forever.

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