It’s no secret that Damien Chazelle is a lover of jazz. His directorial debut, Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench, is about a jazz trumpeter and his escapades in love, and his follow up, the critically acclaimed Whiplash, is about an aspiring jazz drummer. Both films are complemented by a wonderful score and play homage to the genre he no doubt feels so passionately about. La La Land is Chazelle’s biggest love letter to jazz as it combines the musical elements of Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench with the production values and cinematography of Whiplash to create a glorious spectacle like no other. Forget about just 2016, La La Land is one of my favorite films of all time.
The film opens big with this magical musical number that takes place on a Los Angeles highway in the middle of rush hour traffic, immediately setting the tone with its high energy dancing and bright color palate. It’s an absolutely wonderful introduction into this world of song and dance and to the two main characters, Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) and Mia (Emma Stone). They both strive for more in their respective artistic fields; Sebastian is a talented jazz pianist but can only find work playing cheery holiday songs or hokey covers and Mia is an actress going from audition to audition while working in a coffee shop on a studio lot. The two bump into each other on multiple occasions and despite their initial reluctance towards one another, they enter a whirlwind romance. That love comes at a cost, however, as they both begin to struggle with their own aspirations, which in turn puts a strain on their relationship.
Spread throughout its story are wonderful song and dance routines, each of which feels unique and special. The Los Angeles cityscape at dusk makes a wonderful backdrop for Gosling and Stone tap dancing to “A Lovely Night” while they look for their cars after a party. Their first date at an observatory leads into a dream-like waltz to “Planetarium.” They’re beautiful sequences, and they make me wish that my own life was a musical, despite the fact that I can neither sing nor dance.
Speaking of singing and dancing, both Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone showcase the absolute best of their talents in La La Land. They literally do it all and do it impressively well. The fact that they’re not professional singers first but still have a talented voice brings a realness to their performances that you wouldn’t get with dubbed songs. Their on-screen chemistry is superb, too, which isn’t surprising given that this is their third film together after Crazy, Stupid, Love and Gangster Squad. They simply exude a charm and passion that propels their performances to the next level.
Damien Chazelle delivers one of the best films of 2016 with La La Land. I love everything about this film. The story is wonderful, the performances are Oscar-worthy, and the music is catchy. You can’t help but smile for every minute of it. I’m simply la la for La La Land.