In a year that has given us a new Star Wars, a Harry Potter spin-off, and new films from Terrence Malick and Richard Linklater, it might come as quite a shock that none of those were my most anticipated of the year.
No, that honor was held for La La Land, a film I grew to be weirdly obsessed with in the weeks leading up to its release—with daily viewings of its trailer that I forced all around me to watch and love.
The last time I got this excited about a movie and replayed the trailer over and over again was for Where the Wild Things Are which has one of the greatest previews of all time—but also ended up being wildly disappointing on nearly all accounts…so I actually psyched myself out quite a bit and feared I would end up abhorring La La Land.
How silly could I have been?
La La Land is a beautiful marriage of film and music, of color and lights, of new and old. It’s an experience that makes your heart soar as you fall in love with everything about it—the dazzling visuals, costumes, and set designs, the explosive chemistry between Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, the foot-tapping music from Justin Hurwitz. Everything about this movie is about love and putting your heart into everything you do, and everyone involved seems to understand this and returns it in kind.
There’s a line from the movie where John Legend’s character, Keith, is ribbing Ryan Gosling’s stubborn Seb about honoring the roots of Jazz music while also looking to the future. In many ways, this represents Damien Chazelle’s style—he’s a student of the masters who wants to take what they have done, and puts a fresh spin on them to bring in a new era of filmmaking.
With nods to the greats like Singing in the Rain, and more obvious homages to the supreme Jacques Demy, particularly Umbrellas of Cherbourg, Chazelle has made a classic musical hidden within the shell of something modern and fresh—it might easily be the musical of our generation.
And Chazelle is really good at it—scarily good. Do we keep forgetting that he has only made one other film? Whiplash was a brilliant start to a career—far better than most debut films. But following up that with a film like La La Land? I doubt anyone suspected him of moving from a film about a sadistic drum teacher and his student to a colorful musical, yet he continues to excel in everything he does and that makes him the most promising director working in Hollywood today.
But for all its spectacle, La La Land is really a simple story. A struggling actress, Mia (Emma Stone) meets a struggling Jazz musician, Seb and the two fall in love as they both strive for their dreams. It has laughs, it has its emotions, but most importantly it will have you grinning ear to ear for much of its 128-minute duration.
Stone and Gosling have seldom been better, with Stone making another case for her being one of the most talented and consistent actresses of our time, and Gosling continually showing he can do just about anything and still be so goddamn charming. That’s really him playing the piano, no hand-doubles or CGI at all.
I know it’s been said, but they really don’t make movies like this anymore—and that’s why La La Land stands out so much. It’s a rarity that someone would actually make something like a classic musical, but when you gather a stellar cast and crew, insert enough passion and care, and bring together two absolutely charming actors and have them sing and dance their way into your hearts…that’s movie magic right there. It doesn’t get any better than this.