Review: La La Land

Two things to disclose before we dive in: 1) I’m all in on Emma Stone. She’s great and it has been fun to watch her go from Superbad and Easy A to meatier roles like Birdman and La La Land. 2) I love Gosling. And I’m not ashamed to admit it.

Sometimes I’m a little skeptical before going into a universally acclaimed movie, and make no mistake, La La Land has been almost unequivocally praised. The current front-runner in the best picture sweepstakes, the movie focuses on Stone, a struggling actress/barista, and Gosling as the last old school jazz pianist of a dying generation. There’s banter, there’s singing, and there’s beautiful direction from Damien Chazelle (who also directed Whiplash, which was the dopest).

From the first surrealistic flash mob musical number to the time bending, reality altering final minutes, this movie felt fresh and classic at the same time. And for a modern musical heavy on the pomp and circumstance, the movie’s most notable and memorable aspects perhaps came from moments of silence, which really gave the actors a chance to flex their considerable muscles.

Sure the music is fun and great, but there were two moments that really resonated with me, both drawing on nothing but silence. Early in the movie, Stone’s character is auditioning for a role and is really bringing it, flashing the spectrum of emotions. In her climactic moment, while in the middle of crying, she’s interrupted by an assistant (or someone of the like), entering the room. There’s silence and a tight shot of Stone. Her face tells the story: she’s trying to stay in the moment as the character, but she’s also frustrated and vulnerable and contemplative and she knows she can’t really show any of these personal emotions outwardly. It’s a really touching scene and an awesome performance.

Not to be outdone, Gosling takes his turn in the movie’s final minutes. He’s sitting at the piano and he just finished his masterpiece. Basically everything that happens in the entire movie to that point is clearly running through his head, and he’s experiencing pride, regret, sadness, and fatigue all at once. And he never looks up. He just stares at the keys. The shot feels like it last for an hour, when in actuality it’s probably less than a minute. He’s silent, but still says everything.

There are times when I watch movies and think “That’s great”, without really understanding why or being able to explain myself. With La La Land, there is so much to unpack. It’s a movie about dreams, relationships, encouragement, envy, and regret. I still probably don’t know exactly why it clicked with me (I’m not that smart or perceptive), but it did. I really enjoyed it.

Oh, and I’m still Team Gosling forever.

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