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Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone as Sebastian and Mia in La La Land

La La Land is about dreamers and dreams. It is also about falling in love, falling in love with your dreams and falling in love with someone, but not just anyone, someone who encourages you and supports you in the pursuit of your dreams. It is about knowing that realizing your dreams comes at a cost both personally and financially.

Winner of the People’s Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival, La La Land, written and directed by Damien Chazelle and with spectacular performances by Ryan Gosling (as Sebastian) and Emma Stone (as Mia), brings back the charm of classic Hollywood musicals, while adhering to a good storyline.

Damien Chazelle says, “With La La Land I wanted to explore how you balance life with art and how you balance dreams and reality,” and he goes on to say, “I wanted to use music and dance to express it. The movie is about passion for art and passion for love. It is about using dreams and using fantasy to comment on reality.”

Sebastian is a Jazz pianist and singer / composer and Mia is a struggling actress. Sebastian is playing in a restaurant where nobody seems to be listening and Mia is a barista with a stack of audition rejections that are piling up. They keep bumping into each other despite themselves and yes they fall in love.

We will paraphrase a line from the film, but remember it. Sebastian tells Mia that he wants to take her to see a film, “strictly for research purposes.”

The doubts that creep into an artist’s life especially with the emotional rollercoaster of emotional highs and crushing rejections is depicted in the characters taking turns to push one another to keep pursuing their own dreams.

Gosling talks about his character Sebastian, “It is easier for him to get onboard with Mia’s dream than it is for him to get onboard with his own, to do what she loves to do.”

The film is romantic, dramatic and has just the right touch of humor to add some levity, but not so much that the film becomes comedic.  If you are a fan of classic films featuring dance numbers by people such as Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, do not get caught up with comparisons, just enjoy the dancing of Gosling and Stone for what it is, beautiful. Kudos to choreographer Mandy Moore, for her work with not just Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, but the numerous other dancers throughout this film that will have you acting like a child in a candy shop saying I want more of this and a little bit more of that. From the opening scene, which features an eye-popping and colorful song and dance number, this movie will have you sitting on the edge of your seat.   

Choreographer Mandy Moore says, “In order for an audience to be vested in something they have to have a feeling of being connected with it and that they are real people moving and then it just transcends and moves into this fantasy world.  That was number one with Damien and me, finding out what that bridge would be.  How do we go from Ryan and Emma being normal people in a musical, but very real actors, brilliant actors and what is that segue and that bridge into dance. Then when it becomes dance how does it stay accessible to people. When you put two people in a room and you ask them to dance, the vulnerability and the journey that happens with that you can’t teach it. It just is. You get in the room and you learn so much about each other. You open up. Dance does that. I knew by getting them (Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone) in a room and having them for months at a time we would get there. If I had only had them for a week I would be really worried about that.”

One of the highlights of the film is the Griffith Park dance scene with Sebastian and Mia and Emma Stone talks about that, “It was done in one take and it is when our characters really connect for the first time.”

Chazelle enlisted the help of university classmate and composer Justin Hurwitz for the musical score. The theme song “City of Stars,” was composed by Hurwitz and the lyricists are Benj Pasek and Justin Paul.  The words, “City of stars are you shining just for me? City of stars you never shine so brightly,” really does reflect what this outstanding film is all about. Jasper Randall the choir and vocal contractor assembled some incredible talent for La La Land and it was supported by a fabulous ninety piece orchestra.

If you are looking for a fairytale type of movie this is not the one for you.  This is an excellent script, in part, because it does not sugarcoat the challenges, the heartbreaks and the feeling of ecstasy that accompany the pursuit of a career in music or acting. The director and actors authentically capture the emotional highs and lows that artists go through.

Although, the cast is large, in part due to the dance numbers, there really are not any co-stars in La La Land and that is just fine, because Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling carry this movie. In fact, if we are pushed to name co-stars we would say the music and dance numbers are the real co-stars.

If you can only fit one movie into a modest budget or a tight time schedule we encourage you to make that film La La Land.

Editor’s note: Direct quotes were derived from studio interviews, courtesy of EPK.TV.   

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This film review by Joe Montague  published December 25, 2016 is protected by copyright © and is the property of Riveting Riffs Magazine All Rights Reserved.  Except where indicated photos and artwork are the the property of  Summit Entertainment and they are protected by copyright © All Rights Reserved. This review may not be reproduced in print or on the internet or through any other means without the written permission of Riveting Riffs Magazine, All Rights Reserved