La La Land is the type of film that remains lodged in your memory long after the credits roll.

‘La La Land’ Blu-ray Review

The modern-day musical from 32-year-old writer-director Damien Chazelle (Whiplash) set in Los Angeles depicts the love affair between struggling actress Mia (Emma Stone) and pianist/jazz enthusiast Sebastian (Ryan Gosling). As Mia and Sebastian work tirelessly to achieve their dreams in a city where attaining fame and success is undeniably difficult, the young artists embark on an arduous journey to balance their romantic relationship and their respective careers.

The movie is replete with a beautiful score and soundtrack from composer Justin Hurwitz, whose songs and melodies vary from fast-paced, upbeat and inexorably catchy to mellow and morose. In this sense, the music very adequately captures the highs and lows of life.

The vibrant colors of the costumes — particularly the dresses — and sets are evident in many of the scenes that include musical numbers. This is particularly evident in numbers like “Someone in the Crowd,” or in the Planetarium sequence that occurs where a scene from the James Dean classic movie Rebel Without A Cause was filmed. (a film that Mia and Sebastian go see together)

The opening and ending musical sequences, among several other crucial scenes, include stellar melodies, incredibly well-choreographed dances, and brilliant cinematography. The camerawork used to shoot several scenes, even the non-musical moments, varies from several different types of angles, and the editing and scene transitions are just as variegated as the costumes.

The story drags slightly in the middle portion of the film: certain scenes or montages could have been shortened. Nevertheless, Stone and Gosling’s chemistry is undeniably strong, as it was in the two previous films the two thespians worked together on (Crazy Stupid Love and Gangster Squad). They both make pleasant displays of comedic and dramatic acting prowess in key moments of the film, both when they share the screen together and when they play off other characters. The passion for jazz felt by Gosling’s Sebastian is certainly believable and unforced.

However, even with both lead actors’ charming personas, it seems exaggerated to say that both Stone’s and Gosling’s performances were worthy of Golden Globe wins and Academy Award nominations (and win, in the case of Stone). Though it is incredibly genuine, Stone’s performance is not nearly Oscar-caliber as those of other women in her Best Actress category this past year, like Natalie Portman in Jackie or Ruth Negga in Loving. 

Gosling learned to play the piano from scratch as part of the preparation for his role, which is undoubtedly admirable. Even multiple-Grammy Award winner John Legend makes a satisfactory acting debut in La La Land, for which he also served as executive producer. Despite the fact that the Ordinary People singer/songwriter’s character — a musician named Keith — is unlikable due to his bluntness and mild arrogance, Legend’s charisma leaves you forgiving part of Keith’s cynicism. This is particularly true when he performs an original song from the movie, a flashy jazz/synth-pop tune called “Start A Fire.”

The fact that the jovial, catchy opening musical number, “Another Day of Sun,” was shot in merely two days during a heat wave on a Los Angeles freeway is impressive in itself. The cinematography, choreography and sound mixing are even more jaw-dropping. The Blu-ray’s special features demonstrate what the process of shutting down this highway was like.

The Blu-ray’s other bonus material includes an audio commentary of the entire movie with Chazelle and Hurwitz and a video called “La La Land’s Love Letter to Los Angeles,” in which the title of the film is explained in relation to the story. Also included is another featurette entitled “Ryan and Emma: Third Time’s the Charm,” which traces both the on-screen and off-screen relationship between the movie’s two main stars and how it has evolved.

La La Land is unquestionably scattered with corny and saccharine clichés of the ups and downs of Hollywood life, but the bitter-sweet ending — without spoiling anything — is far from trite. In the end, this contemporary tale demonstrates what several other stories, even those that occur in settings diametrically opposed to those like that of this musical, have long shown: that success, and the decisions that follow the obsession with pursuing one’s dreams, come at a cost.

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