Writing about La La Land has proven a bit tricky. On the one hand, I am eager to share why I feel so strongly that it is, by a wide margin, the best movie I watched in 2016. On the other hand, going into this film not knowing exactly what to expect made the experience all the more magical, and I worry that over explaining, over comparing, or over analyzing it will potentially take away some of that magic from you. So before I go on, consider the following:
If you have any interest in La La Land, for any reason, stop reading this and go watch it. You can finish reading this when you come back – this website should still be up and running by the time you get back. However, if you need someone to convince you to spend any time watching a romantic comedy musical starring Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone (I know that description doesn’t immediately speak to a lot of people), or if you have already seen it and can’t get it out of your head and you feel compelled to read anything you can about it, then, please, continue.
I walked into La La Land expecting “just” a Singing in the Rain style throwback flick written and directed by Damien Chazelle, who happens to be the guy who wrote and directed my favorite movie of 2014: Whiplash. The fact that he was behind La La Land made me pretty determined to see it in theaters, since I didn’t see Whiplash on the big screen and seriously regretted missing the opportunity. After maybe 15 minutes of singing and dancing, I knew I would walk out of the theater happy. The clever style, catchy music, sharp humor, and memorable characters mashed together to create an absolute blast of an experience. I quickly convinced myself that there was no way that this hadn’t played on Broadway for years, it was too polished and perfect. For the record, I looked it up later, and am happy to report that I was wrong. The story and music were both completely original.
As the movie struts on, it continuously elevates itself. It’s gorgeously shot and technically impressive. The number of long, elaborate takes blew me away, even for a musical. The whole movie is a love letter to jazz and to old Hollywood, which sounds schmaltzy but feels so pure, passionate, and legitimate that you can’t help but get swept up in it. It charms with its irresistibly sweet nature. I would love to talk to guys who were drug into seeing La La Land with their wives or girlfriends, because I refuse to believe that anyone not already dead in the ground would not be won over by it.
Even more powerfully, La La Land explores relationships and hard life choices in a way that feels more true and heart wrenching than anything I have seen in ages. The film asks the audience the largely rhetorical questions: “How do you balance your ambition and personal passions – the things that make you uniquely you, with your passion and love for your partner? How do you deal with it when those two very important things conflict?” I have not stopped thinking about this question since finishing the movie.
La La Land could have existed as nothing but a fun Gene Kelly-esque musical throwback, and I would have liked it, and maybe even loved it. And it is all of that, while also succeeding as an incredibly polished piece of film making that miraculously manages to feel raw, genuine, and endearingly, devastatingly human.
There are very few films that I consider to be perfect, but I can say with certainty that this is one of them. I do not think I have ever watched a movie once before and been so immediately eager to consider it a masterpiece. After seeing a great movie I’ll sometimes think, “this might end up being a classic, I wonder if it will stand the test of time – I wonder if I’ll like it as much on a second or third viewing.”
I do not wonder about those things at all with this movie. As far as I’m concerned, La La Land has already earned itself a prime spot in the pantheon of classic Hollywood movies. I think it’s only a matter of time before more people discover it and we end up with Broadway renditions, midnight showings, high school musical versions, etc. It’s an ambitious film that executes all of its parts to perfection, and somehow still manages to be greater than the sum of those perfectly executed parts.