‘La La Land’ is doing gangbuster business

“La La Land

Lion’s Gate

2 hour, 8 minutes

Last week I spent a lot of time whining about how I was too sick to get out to the movies and bemoaning the fact that even though Oscar darling “La La Land” had finally come to the Peninsula, I was going to miss it. Well, luckily, “La La Land” is doing gangbuster business and hung around for another week, giving me the chance to finally see what all the fuss was about. Trust me, it was worth the wait.

I have to say that my cynical movie critic persona was driving my initial impressions of the film. “Ok, yeah, that’s clever,” I thought. “That’s nice, even though the dancing isn’t exactly top-notch.” “Not sure what all the fuss is about, but I guess it’s fine.” Gradually, though, I quit thinking about how much cooler I was for not being impressed with this very impressive film and just let the story take me. By the end of the movie I was completely sold. I unabashedly loved “La La Land.”

Though a definite throwback to musicals of the 1950s and 60s, “La La Land” is entirely contemporary. Emma Stone plays Mia, an aspiring actress and part-time barista working at the Starbucks on the Warner Brothers lot. She has big dreams, but constant rejection is a bitter pill to swallow. By chance, she thrice crosses paths with Sebastian, played by Ryan Gosling. Sebastian isn’t the easiest guy in the world to take, mostly because of his dogged insistence on the ineffability of classic jazz. He’s an acolyte, and one of the few modern practitioners of an art form that appears to be dying. Though he makes a little money playing keyboards in small working bands around town, Seb’s dream is to open a jazz club of his own, where he can celebrate Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis and Louis Armstrong on his own terms. Seb and Mia would, at first glance, appear to have little in common, and indeed one of the first musical numbers they share calls for the pair to croon, ” We’ve stumbled on a view, that’s tailor-made for two. What a shame those two are you and me. There’s not a spark in sight. What a waste of a lovely night.” It’s a great number, done in the style of “Singin’ in the Rain,” though like everything else in the film, wholly original. This is not a musical review – neither a “Mama Mia” nor “Rock of Ages.” “La La Land” is inspired by a style of film, but the movie itself is new. Not entirely unpredictably, eventually the two get together and then have to decide whether the careers they had planned, the dreams that brought them to L.A. in the first place are stronger than this newfound attraction.

I’ve always liked Emma Stone, but Ryan Gosling is an actor I guess I’m coming late to the party to. Somewhat wispy, Gosling has nevertheless been great in “Drive,” “The Big Short,” and the hilarious “The Nice Guys.” Everything’s coming up Gosling apparently, because he’s been tapped to play the lead in the highly anticipated “Blade Runner” sequel coming in October. As Seb, he’s great – funny and understated, and reportedly learned to play the piano for this role. Stone is luminous as Mia. She’s funny and sharp, and is a complete knockout, though in a somewhat untraditional way.

Though this is far from a one-man show, the central performances are really the thing. J.K. Simmons shows up as a club manager, at one point, and John Legend has a brief role as well. Mostly, however, this is the Mia and Seb show. Gosling and Stone have amazing chemistry together. It’s their relationship that allowed me to quit judging the movie, and just buy in. There are those that may claim this movie is too fluffy, too light to win – that it’s another instance of “The Artist,” but I disagree. “The Artist” felt like a movie made on a bet – “La La Land” is the real deal.

There are still lots of movies out there that I want to see before the Oscars. “Moonlight” “Manchester by the Sea,” and more. But with “La La Land,” I think I hit the jackpot. I really enjoyed this film, and would definitely enjoy seeing it again. Grade: A

“La La Land” is rated PG-13 for langauge and adult situations.

Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.

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