Houston Cinema Arts Festival: ‘LA LA LAND’ – falling in love has never been this easy


James Cole Clay // Film Critic

LA LA LAND | 128 min | PG-13
Director: Damien Chazelle
Cast:Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, Amiée ConnRosemarie DeWitt and J.K. Simmons

Director Damien Chazelle (WHIPLASH) makes falling in love look easy. His latest LA LA LAND,takes at look at the far gone genre of musicals with a nostalgic lens, while giving the movie a snazzy modern tempo. It’s an infectious ode to the days of yesteryear made for 2016 that’s truly a sight to behold. Chazelle, in only his 3rd film as a director, is quickly mastering the medium; he’s on the top of a short list of the best emerging American filmmakers. He gives this one a visual splendor that vibrates with style and never lacks substance from its wildly charming leads Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling.

Los Angeles serves as a playground for capturing the dreams of two young lovers Sebastian (Gosling), a down and out jazz piano player with hopes of owning a club, and Mia (Stone), a frustrated actress looking to hit a big break. They meet under not-so good circumstances in a traffic jam perfectly suited for L.A. She’s reading her sides, not paying attention to merging traffic, he viciously honks, she gives him the finger. The second time they meet as Sebastian is getting fired from his gig playing Christmas tunes for tips, she compliments his skill, he blows her off. But third time’s the charm at a party where they walk the streets singing a dance number about how they can’t stand each other, while they can barely keep their hands off one another. Under a deep purple sky Gosling and Stone channel their inner Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers as they carelessly glide making it impossible not to fall in love along with them.

Gosling (left) Stone (right) in La La Land (photo courtest of Lionsgate)

Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone star in LA LA LAND. Courtesy of Lionsgate.

Fans of MGM musicals are going to be satisfied, while LA LA LAND will usher in millennials and nostalgists alike. This is the kind of film that will have your heart swelling with joy, your neck tingling from Gosling and Stone’s palpable chemistry as they share their first kiss in a movie theater. While its rainbow and butterflies in courtship, Chazelle crafts his leads with character, they are more than just a song and dance.

Sebastian is trapped by his own ego, he’s willing for life to treat him as a punching bag while Mia is struggling to keep hope alive as she prepares for her one woman show. Los Angeles is beating these two dreamers down, Sebastian says “That’s L.A. for you, they worship everything and value nothing.” For many the dream is to fall in love, but for Seb and Mia the passion for art comes first.

Chazelle toys with the romance in heartbreak when you have to choose between the greatest love or following a career. It’s a choice that can make you cynical if you take the wrong path; in a film that’s wholly optimistic cynicism is a fate worse than the death of jazz.

The music in this is movie doesn’t drown out the narrative. Like the great Hollywood Golden Age musicals LA LA LAND is pure visual storytelling. The music is the romance. Even if you aren’t a fan of jazz the tunes allow love to fill the room.

Music highlights include Stone’s beautifully imperfect “Audition (Fools Who Dream)” and Gosling’s low-key piano riff of “City of Stars.” LA LA LAND is about what an artist sacrifices to achieve their dreams and it’s a full on celebration of love. Chazelle has lived up to the hype as making this year’s best film, definitely looking forward to seeing him around for the next few decades.

LA LA LAND opens in limited release Dec. 9, nationwide on Dec. 16.

About author

James C. Clay

James Cole Clay has been working as a film critic for the better part of a decade covering new releases, blu ray reviews and the occasional drive-in cult classic. His writing is dedicated to discovering social politics through diverse voices, primarily focusing on Women In Film and LGBTQ cinema.