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La La Land (2016) ****

La La Land (2016) ****

A romantic musical, La La Land was written and directed by Damien Chazelle. It stars Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, John Legend and Rosemarie DeWitt.
La La Land is a tale of two wannabes in a city of dreams, where many try, yet relatively few achieve fame. Gosling plays a rebellious musician, who dreams of opening his own club, and revive classic jazz. Stone’s character is of an aspiring actress, one of many in LA. The two meet and end up falling in love.
Here is what works in La La Land: the first and last scenes in this film are simply outstanding. Everything else in between is just okay, with some scenes better than others.
The opening sequence does a fantastic job in positioning and framing the story in terms of location and mood. In fact, one may argue that the entire premise of the film is already set in that get-go. That by itself is quite an achievement, and will likely be added to the list of classic movie openings taught in film schools. But even more than the opening, is the way Chazelle opted to end the story. Without giving away any spoilers, all I can say is that the conclusion, while bitter-sweet, makes incredible use of music as a vehicle to drive the visual elements. That last scene presents an alternative plotline, compacting it all into a few short minutes. Chazelle shows, rather than tell, why the movie must end in the way that it does. It is simply dazzling.
Another element that works well in La La Land is the chemistry between the Gosling and Stone. While not their first time together on the big screen, the two play each other out in perfection.
The music, choreography, and art-direction are also very good.
On the downside, the plot could have been at least twenty minutes shorter. Chazelle shows much promise as a director, although he needs to let go of the extra fat that slows and tires the audience. Also, there were a few soft-focus shots, especially in tight close-ups, that caused distraction.
Back on the up-note, La La Land has a couple of very honest moments, especially when each of the main characters is about to give up their dream and compromise. These felt real to anyone who had ever pursued a vision, and then had to face a reality that didn’t agree with those wishes. Through his two leads, Chazelle shows two possible outcomes to such crossroads. For the Stone character, the actress gives up her aspiration and is ready to turn it in, but her previous efforts, combined with a little help from her friend, prove worthy. For the musician, he realizes that compromise is needed on the long road to making his vision a reality. Those two paths do not come close to covering all possible results, but still, all in all, combined with the story’s ending, Chazelle broke away from the mold, making La La Land fresh in a town that is big on formulas.

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