La La Land (2016)

brooke Damned if La La Land isn’t charming

casey I am charmed. Can go straight to talking about the ending? Because it’s fantastic .

brooke The ending! Damien Chazelle knows how to write a movie (plz see Whiplash and/or 10 Cloverfield Lane ASAP). And this has an ending slash epilogue that is a cherry on top of the cinematic sundae that is La La Land. And how perfect is J.K. Simmons’ cameo?

casey It wins the award for Best Use of J.K. Simmons in a musical/comedy, but I guess we should talk about the rest of the movie so any of this makes sense.

brooke Okay, so. La La Land is the musical tale of Mia Dolan (Emma Stone) and Sebastian Wilder (Ryan Gosling), their not-so-perfect meet cute, and their relationship afterwords. Mia is an aspiring actress who spends most of her time trying to make auditions, and Sebastian is a jazz pianist in a world that doesn’t really care for jazz anymore. The movie takes place in L.A. (get it, L.A.? LA? La La Land?), where the two work  boring jobs while dreaming of what their lives should be like. They have a couple of brief, uncomfortable meetings–first on a freeway where he cuts her off, then in a restaurant where he blows off her attempted compliment after having just been fired, and finally at a party where they finally talk for the first time. They soon begin dating and encourage each other’s creative work, with Mia eventually writing her own one woman show and Sebastian reluctantly joining a pop-jazz fusion band (led by John Legend)–imperfect stepping stones on their way to greatness.
I feel like the movie has a definite air of self-satisfaction, but it’s mostly sweet, and it portrays some of the very real disappointments and compromises creative types experience.

casey It’s interesting because the musical numbers are clearly trying to conjure an old fashioned (imagine my old timey voice here) Hollywood magic of the movies glamour, which is balanced by the more grounded scenes of dialogue. I’m not totally sure it works as a seamless whole, although I’m also the first to admit that musicals aren’t usually my thing. But I enjoyed the various scenes at jazz clubs, and I’ll watch Emma Stone in anything at this point. Neither Stone nor Gosling stood out as exceptional singers to my untrained ear, but the songs are catchy even if a few drag on longer than they need..

brooke Emma Stone is so wonderful. Even though neither of them are incredible singers, they do the job well enough. I really liked City of Stars, which won the Golden Globe for Best Original Song in a Motion Picture (edit: also the Oscar for Best Original Song). It fits the overall mood of the movie: sort of heavy, sort of hopeful.

casey The early moments between the couple are cute, but a lot of the story actually takes place after they’re together, and catalogs the more mundane problems of maintaining a relationship as Sebastian takes the lucrative but artistically stultifying job with the touring band (boo for him, because I dug their sound!) while Mia struggles to write her own show back home. Those scenes aren’t always as interesting, but they’re a little more mature than I’d have expected from the lighter stuff that comes before.

brooke And it’s great to watch a movie handle relationship drama in a way that feels natural. Don’t get me wrong, I love the big dramatic overreactions that only ever happen in movies and almost no one would actually do, but it’s refreshing to see Mia and Sebastian act more like normal human beings. They make mistakes and they deal with the ramifications in ways that I related to.

casey The middle act probably overstays its welcome, but it’s at least unique. And now I feel like I can discuss the finale, which I will do in a way that shouldn’t spoil much. Suffice to say that Mia and Sebastian’s relationship culminates in a way that feels true to the characters, then the movie jumps forward a few years and sets up an emotional song and dance routine that re-imagines their entire relationship in a Sliding Doors scenario, ending the movie on a buoyant, bittersweet note that elevates it far beyond its uneven parts.

brooke Yeah, based on what I’m seeing from critics and awards so far, I think the whole La La Land just a little overrated, but that doesn’t mean it’s not really good. It’s not the best flick of 2016, but I totally buy into the magic it’s selling.

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