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La La Land (2016)
Blu-ray Disc Released: 4/25/2017
All Ratings out of
Review by Stephanie Long, Posted on 4/24/2017
I love musicals. I mean I really LOVE musicals. I grew up watching many movie versions of musicals such as Hair, Grease, Sound of Music, Oklahoma, The Music Man, and West Side Story to the point I could sing every note and quote every line. Even now as an adult, I can still picture every scene from my favorite musicals, so when I heard about La La Land, I was immediately hopeful. If Hollywood is going to continue to drag its heels and not make the movie version of Wicked (hello- Idina and Kristen aren’t getting any younger), then I will happily take an original musical to add to my personal favorites. Unfortunately, La La Land is not it.
La La Land tells the story of two artists who cross paths in chance encounters and finally fall in love. Emma Stone plays Mia, an aspiring actress who works in the coffee shop on a movie set and also writes her own plays, including a one woman play called “So Long, Boulder City”. Ryan Gosling is a jazz pianist named Sebastian who helps Mia (and many in the audience, myself included) understand why jazz is an art form. The story is quite simple as the two balance the ups and downs of their emerging careers along with their love life. Throw in some wonderfully choreographed dance numbers, an exceptionally well-planned primary color scheme, and two big stars, and you should have an absolutely delightful movie musical to revive and bring back this staple from the past.
A movie with so much effort, promise, and star power should have been “La La Lovely”, but ends up being” Blah Blah Bland”. It tries to be 500 Days of Summer (a great quirky love story) as a musical but it has none of its charm. Only the song City of Stars is memorable (perhaps because it is played several different times in the movie), and many of the dance numbers are good, but the story itself and casting of the main stars tarnishes the magic of what does work. I did enjoy the complexity and exuberance of the opening number which makes one think this is going to be a joyful movie experience, but I could not get behind some of the main performances and the tedious, plodding pace which made me restless and bored halfway through- the ultimate sin for a movie- especially a musical.
I have to scratch my head as to why Emma Stone was cast as Mia other than the fact that her red hair fit into the color scheme. She cannot sing (whispery singing can’t disguise this), and while she doesn’t trip during any dance numbers, she has absolutely no natural grace. There are also some points in the movie when her attempts to be charming by being goofy (i.e. the “I Ran” silly dance directed at Sebastian for being a jerk to her during their first few encounters) actually made me cringe. It appears she is mugging for camera to show how fun and quirky she is, but the faces she makes are honestly awful. While I enjoyed her in some of her other movies, she just was a terrible choice for Mia. Why would someone who can’t sing and only passably dance be cast in such a role? There are lots of actresses out there who can do all three (Evan Rachel Wood would have knocked this out of the park), so perhaps the on-screen chemistry some felt she had with Ryan Gosling in Crazy Stupid Love led to her role in this movie.
Gosling, however, does a much better job in this movie as he can sing well enough and does have more grace then his co-star. I am not a huge fan of him like others, but having seen his humor in The Nice Guys recently, I do understand his popularity more now. His character Sebastian does not come off very well in the beginning even though the movie explains this is because he was the victim of a scam, but by the end of the movie, his character is more the heart of the film and more likable than Mia ends up being. Many reacted negatively to the ending of the movie, but I actually found this one of the better parts of the movie because I was able to feel more connected to Gosling’s character than Stone’s. The ending reminded me of The Way We Were, but the acting of Gosling and the way the ending was written kept it from being sappy and hit a nice emotional note to close the film
Damien Chazelle not only directs La La Land, but also wrote the screenplay. His Harvard classmate Justin Hurwitz wrote the songs and score. Kudos to the attempts of both, but the direction and screenplay are part of the problem, as well as the irony that even though most of the songs aren’t catchy, there also aren’t enough for a musical. The insistence of Chazelle of putting in a clichéd conflict gives the movies stretches of tedium. How many times have I seen the “one of our careers is doing better than the other person’s, even if I have ‘sold out’ in a way” plot line? Throw in the whole “you have something critically important happening at the exact same moment I do and my triumph happens at the exact same moment as your low point” is so trite. I know I have harped on how Hollywood oversimplifies and totally misses what middle America experiences, and obviously this movie does much to give a nod and wink to Hollywood insiders about the whole Hollywood experience in becoming/attempting to become famous, but the conflicts feel very forced and unnecessary. At one point in the movie, in the midst of busy career commitments, Sebastian suggests Mia rehearse her one woman play on the road while he is touring the next two weeks to which she gets so offended and proclaims that would be impossible. Would it really? I think it is more than feasible, and this scene and the whole “Sebastian misses Mia’s low point when her play does poorly right at the exact moment his band is in a photo shoot for press” is contrived. While Chazelle excels in directing because of how visually beautiful the movie is, he fails because his storytelling ability in this film falls flat.
La La Land is tone deaf on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Lionsgate. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 32 Mbps. The image is very sharp and clear, showing no overt grain and no defects from the source materials. As noted above, the color palette is an integral part of the film's aesthetic and those colors look great here. The image is never overly dark or bright. The level of detail is very good and the depth is impressive. The Disc carries a Dolby Atmos 7.1 audio track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 4.5 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. As one would hope, the music sounds fine here, and we can pick out individual instruments from the front channels. The music also offers notable bass at times. The party scene really shines, as we get detailed surround and stereo effects, showing off the various sounds coming from off-screen.
The La La Land Blu-ray Disc contains several extra features. We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from Writer/Director Damien Chazelle and Composer Justin Hurwitz. "Another Day of Sun: They Closed Down a Freeway" (11 minutes) explores the creation of the opening sequence, where we see that it actually was shot on a real road, and the planning which went into it. "La La Land's Great Party" (5 minutes) takes us on-set and behind the scenes to see the rehearsals and choreography involved in the big party scene. In "Ryan Gosling: Piano Student" (5 minutes), we learn that the actor learned how to play the piano for the film. "Before Whiplash: Damien Chazelle's Passion Project" (10 minutes) has the director discussing the path he took the path to making the film. "La La Land's Love Letter to Los Angeles" (7 minutes) looks at how the city becomes a character in the film. "The Music of La La Land" (13 minutes) profiles Composer Justin Hurwitz, who we see at work. "John Legend's Acting Debut" (5 minutes) offers comments from the musician. "The Look of Love: Designing La La Land" (9 minutes) examines the color palette and the elaborate sets of the film. "Ryan and Emma: Third Time's The Charm" (6 minutes) focuses on how the actors have worked together in the past. "Damien & Justin Sing: The Demos" has the duo performing two songs themselves. We get three THEATRICAL TRAILERS and a "Poster Gallery", as well as a feature which allows the viewer to jump to specific songs.
Review Copyright 2017 by Mike Long