As a guy who doesn’t typically like it when characters in movies break into song, LA LA LAND already had a strike against it. The other factors it had in its favor helped it completely win me over, to the point that LA LA LAND is one of my favorite films of the year.
I like a good dance number.
That’s right, you heard me. I don’t like it when the characters just start singing, and I avoid musicals as much as possible, but ever since I was a kid, I’ve really enjoyed dance numbers. Let’s blame Michael Jackson and his crazy footwork in the music videos that helped made great songs timeless. Whether it’s a Fred Astaire film like TOP HAT, a classic like WEST SIDE STORY featuring large numbers, or the more recent BILLY ELLIOT, if there’s a dance scene, I’m probably going to be interested. If it weren’t for the language barrier, I’d watch more Bollywood films. The flash mob scene at the end of FRIENDS WITH BENEFITS helped create a memorable moment for me from an otherwise innocuous Justin Timberlake / Mila Kunis romantic comedy.
So the fact that LA LA LAND has multiple scenes where both Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone show off some fancy footwork and great timing with one another, mixed with some good choreography, helped give the film some very enjoyable moments.
But dance numbers alone aren’t enough to make for a great movie. Heck, HONEY wasn’t very good at all, and it had some very good dance numbers.
I’m a big fan of Ryan Gosling’s work. Every time I see more of his work, I continue to be impressed. Whether he’s making viewers believe he’s in love with an inanimate object in LARS AND THE REAL GIRL, teaching troubled kids while dealing with demons of his own in HALF NELSON, teaching a newly divorced man how to turn his life around while learning just as much in return in CRAZY. STUPID. LOVE., exuding a professional, reserved and quiet intensity that lead to succinct brutality in DRIVE, helping the viewer navigate the housing crisis in style in THE BIG SHORT, or providing a perfect juxtaposition to Russell Crowe in THE NICE GUYS, I’m just a huge fan.
And now he can dance? AND play the piano?! WHAT?!
So, yeah, as soon as I knew Ryan Gosling was in it, I knew I wanted to see it, and the odds were good that I was going to enjoy it. Emma Stone is alright in my book, and I like the chemistry she had with Gosling in CRAZY. STUPID. LOVE., so that added to my interest level.
What resulted was an amazing film with plenty of emotional hook all the way through to the very end. Its style, timing and quirks reminded me of a film from a bygone era. It felt like Gosling could have been replaced by Cary Grant, Fred Astaire of Frank Sinatra and the film would have fit in quite nicely in the 1950s. That probably has something to do with the fact that the film references old movies and/or their settings, so my opinion might be due, more or less, to subliminal influence, but it doesn’t change the fact that it’s true. I could very easily imagine Cary Grant walking a woman to her car, half pretending he didn’t want to be there, and then finding out he walked well out of his way to accompany her.
The aesthetics were incredible. The mix of vibrant colors with old school stylings, great landscapes, fanciful dreamworlds and great set pieces just added elements to the film to make it something completely special.
My only disappointment is in the way the film ended, and although I won’t give any spoilers, I will say that I understand why they went that direction and it made more sense than the way I might have preferred it.
An excellent film all around, and one that fit well enough into my preferences that I will certainly look for it on Blu-ray, if for no other reason than to try to learn the dance numbers.
My rating: 95 out of 100