HTS Moderator , Reviewer
Title: La La Land
HTS Overall Score:89
By now if you’ve seen ANYTHING about the academy awards you have seen the controversy and drama over “La La Land” and it’s win/no win status for best pictures. Accidentally being in the spotlight for about 30 seconds as Warren Beatty is handed the wrong card for best picture winner making the entire cast light up like the fourth of July, only to have the rug pulled out from under them when it’s realized that “Moonlight” actually won. As much as I was sad for the “La La Land” cast for having their hopes dashed ON STAGE (that’s always embarrassing), I was a bit disappointed for “Moonlight” to have won too as “Hacksaw Ridge” was by FAR the superior flick to either. “La La Land” was the shoe in for Oscar territory being that it was tailor made for the win. It was a MUSICAL in a generation where musicals have pretty much fallen to the wayside, bringing back that overwhelming sense of nostalgia and cinematic history that dominated the screen for decades. Kind of like how “The Artist” got so much critical acclaim by being a black and white silent film (although it WAS a legitimately good movie as well). “La La Land” follows in that vein by using imitation as the highest form of flattery, but ending with a controversial ending that will polarize the viewers without question.
The story revolves around two L.A. hopefuls. One is Mia (Emma Stone), a second-generation actor who is struggling and trying to get that perfect audition to land a role, while working across from the Warner film lot as a barista. She’s ever hopeful, but ever disappointed as the hard life of a struggling actor is made apparent to her over the course of six years. The other is Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), a Jazz pianist who is trying to make ends meet by being an ACTUAL improvisational jazz musician in a world that seems to care less and less about traditional Jazz every year. The two happen to brush shoulders when Sebastian plays some of his music (and ends up getting fired by J.K. Simmons as his boss) at a local restaurant. Soon the two “failures” start to cross paths more and more and before long fire and ice find some common ground and a romance is sparked.
However, this is not your typical romantic musical. There’s songs, there’s dancing, but there is also a lot of drama that hits you right in the gut. Mia is trying to start her one woman play and quits her barista job at the suggestion of Sebastian, while he joins a fusion Jazz band for the money. Despite the fact that he hates the over the top commercialization of his favorite genre. Soon the two start to drift apart as the eddies of life push them away from each other. Sebastian with his “success” as a musician, and Mia with her failures as an actress.
SPOILER ALERT: DO NOT READ PAST THIS UNLESS YOU HAVE WATCHED THE ENDING
Now, I mentioned above that “La La Land” sported a rather polarizing ending, and for a HUGE fan of musical films (my library is rife with them) I was a bit shocked and angered upon initially watching, and rightfully so. Those of us who know musicals know that 99.9% of them end with the two pairing off and dancing happily into the sunset. There’s a few deviations from that model, but that’s the pattern most take. The ending also takes a bit of a confusing flashback sequence that threw me for a moment, but after watching the film a couple more times I REALLY started to understand where they were going with it. Is it sad? Yes. Do I LIKE the ending? No. Do I respect the ending and understand what they were going for? Most definitely. It was spectacularly done even though it didn’t jive with my personal sensibilities.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=95929[/img]The ending has us fast forward 5 years after Mia gets her breakout role and we see that shes’ the ultimate Hollywood success that she’s always wanted. Rich, famous and with a handsome husband. Only it’s not Sebastian. We also get a glimpse of Sebastian’s life as he has started his own Jazz club like he always wanted and has made his dreams come true too. A crossing of fate has Mia and her husband coming into the club, their eyes lock and all those years of pent up emotions and “what could have been” thoughts flood through their mind before the two walk away. As a fan of the happy endings of your typical musical this was a SHOCKER for audiences. It was one of the most widely controversial endings of the year with people walking out of the theater ANGRY that they ended it that way, or really in love with the more “grounded” approach to Hollywood.
My analysis (after watching three times) is that it is open to multiple interpretations. Producer Fred Berg made a statement to several magazines that the plan FROM THE START was to make sure that Mia and Sebastian didn’t end up together. The directors and producers were all very passionate about that and wanted to make the ending more grounded with the pitfalls of success than your typical musical and that’s where “La La Land” gets its freshness from. In my opinion it opens up 2 major avenues of dissection.
1) It gives you a REALLY realistic view of Hollywood. Both Mia and Sebastian get their success, but at what cost? Mia is the typical vapid Hollywood actress that she always wanted, but with all the baggage that she didn’t expect. The pain of lost loves, lost friendships as she always puts her career first. Sebastian has the same. He gets his success as a traditional Jazz musician, but at the cost of his love and with years of regret. The two looking at each other with this agonizing look as Sebastian plays the piano says it all. They got their goals, but look at what it cost them. Something very indicative of the REALL Hollywood dream.
2) The other way of looking at it is to say that their relationship was needed from the start. The two don’t end up together but they helped each other grow and mature so that they could actually reach their dreams. Without the other pushing them along they never would have gotten there and they now have achieved their happiness despite not getting the “fairytale” ending. Personally I find this the less believable of the two and think #1 is much more in line with the “realism” that Fred Berg made.
END OF SPOILERS
“La La Land” is a GREAT movie that is undercut by a controversial ending (which really doesn’t make it any less great as the implementation IS shocking, but very well done) and something that will hurt any musical. Weak singing and dancing. The very heart and soul of a musical is the singing and dancing, but for some reason none of the numbers actually resonated with me. The song that Sebastian plays over and over (including the sad finale) is probably the pinnacle of musical numbers, but complimented by some very weak dancing ability by the stars it just wasn’t enough to make me give this an outstanding rating. Maybe it’s the cynic in me that realizes that being an actor today doesn’t require the same dance background it did back in the 40s and 50s, but let’s just put it this way. Gosling and Emma Stone are no Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire when it comes to tapping the feet on the pavement.
Rated PG-13 for some language
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=95937[/img]You can say that “La La Land” tries bring back nostalgia in more ways than one with the filming of the movie. The movie is actually shot on 35mm film stock and presented in the classic 2.55:1 cinemascope aspect ratio that so many musicals were shot in and it looks FABULOUS! Colors are bright and cheery with primary colors popping everywhere you look. The use of studio stage pieces is obvious as day and VERY intentional, adding some charm to the production that would have made the storyline a bit too dreary without. Fine detail is magnificent with the viewer able to see every line and crease on the actor’s faces, even under bright stage lights and shifting colors of the darkness to light. Black levels are deep and inky and there is almost no sign of crush (some small banding, but nothing worth really complaining about). The film seems to shift from being naturally lit to artificial color grading that goes from bright and cherry to overly saturated and popping off the screen in an almost neon manner. Something that gives it the feel of an “old timey” movie even more. The use of 35mm film stock (except for a single shot of “Rebel Without a Cause” that was in 16mm) gives us a very organic and natural looking image and one that is sure to please the audience.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=95945[/img]Lionsgate has given us the Atmos track on BOTH the Blu-ray and the 4K UHD, and it is a beauteous track to be sure. The opening shot swarms the listener with a blast of audio changes and shifting directional cues as radio dials, traffic noises and blaring car horns make for an encompassing experience. The dialog heavy sections of the movie tend to be front heavy, but these are very often punctuated with a TON of musical numbers which light up all the speakers (and surprisingly the overheads as well) with a cornucopia of tones and melodic notes. The surrounds are used VERY extensively hear and the LFE support is fantastic, especially when the “Messengers” are up on stage with their synthesized Jazz renditions. Simply put, perfection.
• Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Damien Chazelle and Composer Justin Hurwitz
• Damien and Justin Sing: The Demos
• Marketing Gallery
- Theatrical Trailers
- Poster Gallery
• Song Selection
As I said above, “La La Land” could have been a GREAT film, but due to some hiccups in the ending (for some) and the singing/dancing it just is a GOOD movie, which is in no way me saying that you shouldn’t watch it. Fans of musicals will eat this up like candy and whether you love or hate the ending have to admit that it is a fun throwback time to when people broke out in song and dance at whim on the silver screen. Stone and Gosling give great performances and the technical specs for the film are nothing short of outstanding. Extras are rather informative and decently copious as well, making me give this one a solid thumbs up watch. Good Watch
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, J.K. Simmons
Directed by: Damien Chazelle
Written by: Damien Chazelle
Aspect Ratio: 2.55:1 AVC
Audio: English: Dolby Atmos (Dolby TrueHD 7.1 Core), French, Spanish DD 5.1
Runtime: 128 Minutes
Blu-ray Release Date: April 25th, 2017
Buy La La Land On Blu-ray at Amazon
Buy La La Land On 4k Blu-ray at Amazon
Recommendation: Good Watch
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