My love letter to the best movie of the year: ‘La La Land’

Published 11:48 am Saturday, December 31, 2016

**DISCLAIMER** I don’t think a movie review can do “La La Land” justice, but here’s a quick look at why I am so obsessed with the film**

“La La Land” is not only the best movie of the year, it’s in my top 10 movies of all time. It has everything I love: music, dancing, atmosphere, fantastic cinematography and costumes… and of course, Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling. I seriously love this movie so much, on my recent trip to Los Angeles (my first time visiting, if you can believe that!), a lot of the places I wanted to see were scenes from the movie. Of course, it helps director Damien Chazelle used a lot of iconic LA in his film, including Griffith Park Observatory, the Rialto Theater and Chateau Marmont (to name a few).

“La La Land” is a love letter to Old Hollywood, a throwback to the era of movie musicals that used to be the backbone of the entertainment industry. But somewhere in the last few decades, the number of onscreen musicals has drastically faded. In fact, other than THE LAST FIVE YEARS, it’s difficult to think of many modern-day musicals. Hopefully, with the widespread obsession for “Hamilton” and the the awards and critical acclaim “La La Land” is bound to receive, we will see a resurgence of the genre.

Written and directed by artistic mastermind Damien Chazelle (“Whiplash”), “La La Land” tells the story of Sebastian (Gosling) and Mia (Stone), who are each pursuing artistic endeavors and navigating the balance between fame/success and creative fulfillment. Sebastian is a struggling jazz pianist, who seeks to single-handedly save the genre from extinction due to disinterest from the new millennial generation. Mia is a struggling actress, always one audition away from her big break. Both artists are faced with tough decisions, taking job opportunities that may be considered “selling out” in some circles, but could bring them inevitable success. In Sebastian’s case he has to choose between opening up a classic jazz club or joining a pop-jazz band (with John Legend on lead vocals), which strays from his affinity for the classic sound of the genre. Mia, on the other hand, auditions for silly small roles in television shows, but debates whether to take a chance and write a play of her own.

This is only a quick recap of the weighty topics covered in the film. Most unexpected is its inevitable shift from your typical feel-good movie musical to a more realistic twist of the genre. Chazelle takes the path less traveled, breathing realism and melancholy into a genre that is usually associated with cheer and sugary sweet endings.

Watching “La La Land” makes me feel like a kid again, a time when I watched movies over and over again, fueling my obsession to the nth degree. Based on the fact I have already watched “La La Land” eight times (twice in theaters) is it a surprise I am sitting here listening to the soundtrack on repeat as I write this love letter? I had the amazing opportunity to interview Damien Chazelle about the film. I grilled him about everything I could think of in my allotted 20 minutes, and here were some of my favorite trivia facts …

  • Damien always wanted to make a modern, original musical that wasn’t based on anything else.
  • Believe it or not, Ryan Gosling actually learned how to play piano for the film; all of the shots in the movie were of him actually playing. He started training on the piano about 4 months before shooting.
  • He cast Emma and Ryan, knowing they were talented dancers and singers, but wanted to cast people that weren’t seasoned musical theater veterans because he felt it added more realism to the role.
  • The musicals and actors that influenced “La La Land” were the Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers musicals, Gene Kelly, “The Band Wagon,” and French New Wave musicals from the 60s, including “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg.” He wanted to figure out how he could make those older movies feel relevant today.
  • The last sequence of the film contains odes to “The Red Balloon,” “The Band Wagon,” “An American in Paris, “Singin’ in the Rain,” “Funny Face,” “Sunrise” and Charlie Chaplin.
  • Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone really informed their characters. Chazelle incorporated actual audition horror stories from Ryan Gosling’s career. Gosling helped shape his character to be more layered and weathered.
  • The opening number was actually filmed on an EZ Pass off-ramp of the freeway in Los Angeles. They were able to shut it down for two days.
  • There were three months of prep before the film for dance rehearsals, singing, etc. and only two months of filming. Crazy how much they finished in two months!

Needless to say, anyone that has ever had a dream of taking a risk and following a dream will more than relate to this movie. I find watching “La La Land” feels more like an event than your typical film. With killer performances from Stone and Gosling, a fantastic soundtrack, and beautiful cinematography, I can’t imagine anyone will leave the theater thinking this movie deserves anything less than ALL THE AWARDS at the Oscars this year.

My Review: A+++++

LAUREN BRADHSHAW is a lover of all movies, even the bad ones. Follow her on twitter @flickchickdc and her blog is She grew up in Courtland, graduated from Southampton Academy and doubled-majored in foreign affairs and history at the University of Virginia. She lives in the Washington, D.C. area.