A Second Look at ‘La La Land’: Why It’s Not Just Good, But Great

La La Land
Courtesy of Lionsgate

La La Land,” in theory, is a movie that needs no explanation. The simplest thing you could call it is “an old-fashioned musical” — which means, of course, that it’s a big colorful splashy cornball swoon of a movie, one that traffics in the kind of billboard emotions (Love! Sadness! Joy!) and timeless Hollywood forms (Singing! Dancing! A Lavish Freeway Production Number Done In One Unbroken Take!) that can hit audiences like a sweet shot to the heart. That’s the beauty of it, right?

Yet “La La Land” isn’t just old-fashioned. It’s the new-fangled version of a sprawling Tinseltown classic. It’s Old Hollywood meets Jacques Demy meets “New York, New York” meets postmodern indie backlot passion. It’s a grand Los Angeles epic that features “mainstream” sentiments, but it’s also a subtle and idiosyncratic journey that’s almost entirely unpredictable. (Half an hour before it ends, you’ll have no idea where it’s going.) It’s Boy Meets Girl meets the precarious freedom of 21st-century love. It truly is a romance, but it’s also about what it takes to be an artist in a world that may or may not believe in art anymore.

I liked “La La Land” a lot the first time I saw it, but I confess that I didn’t fall head over tap shoes in love with it until I’d seen it a second time. That’s just the way it happens with certain movies; even a great one can kick in more fully on the second date. Here are a few thoughts as to why Damien Chazelle’s film, for all the spangly seduction of its surface, is a movie whose very rapture is elusive and off-center. (Once you’ve hooked into it, though, the rapture seems more heightened because of its off-centeredness.) “La La Land” isn’t just a stylized nostalgia trip of champagne montages and harmonizing hearts. It’s a filmmaking trifecta — it hooks the heart, the eye, and the mind. And once it snags you, it keeps getting better. Here’s why — though please know that I can’t talk about “La La Land” without revealing crucial aspects of it, so if you’re looking to see the movie unspoiled, don’t read on.

There’s a challenge built into the film’s structure. Okay, so you’re sitting there watching “La La Land.” You’ve seen Mia (Emma Stone), a plucky but desperate barista-slash-actress (that hidden underlayer of anxiety is where the potency of Stone’s performance begins), and Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), a retro-obsessive jazz pianist with a real snob edge to him, meet and square off, bicker like alley cats, do a soft-shoe against the magic-hour L.A. carpet of urban lights, and sing a song (in that same sequence) about how they don’t like each other — which, of course, is the moment they start to like each other. Finally, they go on a date to see “Rebel Without a Cause,” which ends with the two of them heading from the Rialto Theater to Griffith Observatory, where they enter the planetarium and are lofted, in the headiness of their romance, right up to the stars.


How Damien Chazelle & His ‘La La Land’ Team Created the ‘Magical’ Romance

That moment is the climax of an intoxicating journey into the sweetness of old-movie love, and it ends with an iris shot right out of a silent film: the image closing down into a tiny circle against the darkness. You’re about an hour into the film — and what you don’t realize, yet, is that that’s the fading moment of its confectionary studio-system daydream aesthetic. From here on in, no more nifty choreographed numbers. No more dancing on air. The glorious sprawling freeway jam that opens the movie? You won’t see another sequence like it. This is all by design, but to go with the flow of “La La Land,” you have to drift for a long time, in the second half, into a very different mood: downbeat, contemporary, a place where production numbers — with their promise of instant mood enhancement — have gone away. You have to realize that you’re now watching…

…a Jacques Demy movie. And here’s what that means. To make “La La Land,” Chazelle drew — in form and spirit — on two celebrated French musicals directed by Jacques Demy in the ’60s: “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg” (1964) and “The Young Girls of Rochefort” (1967). There’s a lot you could say about those films — one thing I’ll say right up front is that I’ve never actually been wild about either of them — but they have a doleful wistful quality that’s strikingly and soulfully European. “Umbrellas” is the better of them, and the more radical achievement: Every line of it is sung, but it’s a pop operetta of the everyday, with lyrics that sound like conversation (a lot of them don’t rhyme), and it tells a story that throws you for a loop: It’s about a girl (Catherine Deneuve) who works in her mother’s umbrella shop, the mechanic (Nino Castelnuovo) she’s in love with, and what happens when he goes off to join the military. The two pledge their love to each other, but then…it fades. Why? Lots of reasons, but the real reason is that love, in “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg,” is a delicate and nearly arbitrary thing, a bit like the weather. (The film opens with a summer rain and ends with a cold snow.)

I’ve always had two essential feelings about “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg.” One is that it has the single most haunting theme song in the history of motion pictures (and I really mean that). The opening sequence, which consists of nothing more than an aerial view of a bunch of people walking under umbrellas accompanied by…that song, can reduce me to a blubbering baby in about 45 seconds. The music, by Michel Legrand, is grand. And so, believe it or not, is the wallpaper. (Most dazzling wallpaper in a movie. Ever.) But the story, as it unfolds, is…strange. Nearly philosophical in the frosty abstraction of its melancholy. The final scene is two people who were once in love running into each other for the first time in many years, and neither of them bats an eye. Which is supposed to demonstrate something. I confess, though: I’ve never gotten it. And I don’t buy it.


'La La Land' film cocktail celebration

‘La La Land’ Director Damien Chazelle Shows His Love for Jazz

But I buy “La La Land,” which takes what’s great about the Jacques Demy musicals — the formal daring, the sweet sadness, the willingness to portray love as a highly imperfect thing — and restores the faith that Demy replaced with a forlorn shrug. “The Young Girls of Rochefort” is probably a more direct stylistic influence on “La La Land”: crowds of people in ordinary dress erupting into song and dance along a roadway, a fusion of MGM and new-wave naturalism. Yet what Chazelle ultimately got from Demy was a feeling, a lush open-endedness: the idea that the ultimate stylized romantic movie form — the musical — could contain a love story about people who drift apart as much as they come together. It’s the same life-goes-on notion that Woody Allen played with in “Annie Hall,” and in “La La Land” Chazelle does it full justice. As much as Jacques Demy (no, I’ll say it: better than Jacques Demy), he made a poetic fantasia about the way old-fashioned love fits into the new-fashioned world. Of course, it helps that he has a co-creator who provided…

The greatest original songs ever composed for a contemporary movie musical. Just think about “Singin’ in the Rain.” There are so many things that make it (arguably) the most sublime big-screen musical of all time, but take away the title song, and you don’t have the full magic. Even the quintessential image of Gene Kelly sashaying through puddles comes at us through those indelible musical notes. The melodies that Justin Hurwitz composed for “La La Land” have that rare kind of luscious defining earworm tastiness, and not to take away from Damien Chazelle’s wizardry, but if the songs weren’t that good, the movie wouldn’t be either.

Everyone will have his or her favorite. The one that’s currently being pushed for the Oscars, “City of Stars,” is my third or fourth favorite. It’s an exquisitely mournful yet seductive number (and the image of Ryan Gosling, with his ordinary-guy croon, singing it to two middle-aged strangers on the Hermosa Beach Pier is one of the film’s most memorable), but I actually prefer the electric infectiousness of the film’s opening mambo, “Another Day of Sun,” which played in my head for three months after I first heard it, and the great “Audition (The Fools Who Dream),” the song sung by Emma Stone in which the film’s emotions of love and loss fuse into its theme: that those who live to create are flaky, difficult, moonstruck, maybe somewhat mad beings who cause distress through their passion — yet the world needs them like oxygen. The song comes at the end of the lengthy detour “La La Land” takes away from singing-and-dancing exuberance, and that’s part of what makes it a deliverance. We’re back in old-musical Heaven! When Emma Stone sings “Here’s to the hearts that ache, here’s to the mess we make,” it has a dramatic/musical/spiritual impact equal to that of Liza Minnelli singing the title number of “Cabaret.” It is that gorgeous, that heartbreaking, that uplifting, that amazing. Stone’s performance is timeless — I have never noticed more the way her large almond eyes evoke Charlie Chaplin — and what reverberates right off the screen is the lilt of that melody. It’s a miracle of melancholy perfection.

That’s another reason “La La Land” gets better the second time you see it: You now have those songs in your system. And why should it be otherwise? Great pop songs don’t necessarily hit us with their ultimate force the first time we hear them; often, on the radio, they kick in that second or third or fourth time. In my own second experience with “La La Land,” I felt like I melted, all the more, into the story those melodies were telling. And I do mean melodies (though the lyrics are lovely). What I heard the second time is how Justin Hurwitz constructed the songs out of bits and pieces of the same musical motifs, so that they flow in and out of each other and merge; it’s really a unified song suite. By the end, the music has become a character in the film (which may be why there are so few actual supporting characters). Just watch the scene near the end where Mia is seated in the nightclub and Sebastian, on stage, sits at the piano and plays, very slowly, with one hand, those notes. Da da da da da da…daaa. Those simple seven notes tell the entire story we’ve been watching.

Then there’s the “Whoa, I didn’t expect that!” ending. Instead of a shoot-the-works production number, “La La Land” culminates in a shoot-the-works piece of alternate reality: Call it “That’s Entertainment!” by way of Charlie Kaufman. Mia, in that club, imagines the life that she could have had if she’d remained with a certain person (or is it his fantasy? or both of theirs?) — and the first time I saw the film, it looked, quite simply, like scenes-from-a-road-not-take. But on second viewing, I saw that this rapid-fire home-movie hallucination is something more: It’s the very movie we would have been watching had “La La Land” simply been the delectable old-fashioned musical we think, for an hour or so, it is. The incandescence of “La La Land” is that while it isn’t that movie, it contains that movie, and it leaves us in a bittersweet swoon over the happy endings we long for that can no longer be, because they’ve all been replaced by the beautiful mess we make.

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  1. Arnold Stallone says:

    You can take that ending and shove it up Jacques Demy’s and Damien Chazelle’s asses. How about thematic consistency? Is that too much to ask?
    Look. I was awestruck by the sets, the acting, the production design, the directing, et al….
    And part of what floored me, I admit, was that simmering current of reality amidst all that magical realism. For example, watching Mia break down outside the movie theatre after the heartbreaking opening/closing night of her 1 woman play…”I’m done!”. As that scene developed, I was struck by the dichotomy of the mid 20th century musical and what Damien Chazelle was trying to accomplish here (analogous to the movie’s “pure jazz” vs. an ever changing, artistic interpretation). I mean, could you imagine Debbie Reynold’s and Gene Kelly bringing that real emotion to their musicals? I loved it!
    But here’s the deal — what was evident THROUGHOUT the movie (from the score to the dancing to the production design) was that any deviation from the traditional musical was merely an update to the form. That the undercurrent of 2016 relevancy to life in LA would be subsumed by the overall thematic demands of what LaLa Land actually is::: Singing In The Rain…not West Side Story.
    LaLa Land is a love story…to LA/Hollywood and to 2 young lovers. That’s the premise and the bargain that the director makes with us throughout 4/5ths of the film. The entire movie begins and progresses from that simple viewpoint. But the ending? What a fucking sucker punch!
    Sure it’s just a movie, but after investing 2 hours into this top notch production….how about an emotional payoff!….not a heart ripping, ass/mind fuck?!!!
    It’s a love story, not Apocalypse Now.
    And the bullshit, inverted It’s A Wonderful Life take on what could have been is nothing more than emotional blackmail.
    Final analysis— first 2 hours of the movie = 5 stars
    Last 15 minutes? If I had the big fork that my granddad used to carve Thanksgiving turkey…I would’ve stuck it in Damien Chazelle’s face.
    Pishy caca, indeed!

  2. Richard says:

    Absolutely spot on. 100%. Instant classic, with intricate choices leading to subtle and overt emotions in all viewers, as can be seen easily in the comments here.R

  3. Likeucare says:

    You are so wrong. The music and songs were incredibly bland and forgettable, neither lead can dance or sing and the story was weak as hell. Hard for me to understand the comparison to old times Hollywood musicals. If they showed this movie back then it would have been a disaster. I didn’t hate it, but it was shockingly bad when compared to these rave reviews.

  4. Kathleen Halleck says:

    A great love story (musical or not) has trials and tribulations but – in the end – the lovers overcome all obstacles and are together. Yay! Or, alternatively, one of them dies (sometimes both!!). See: “Titanic” – “West Side Story” and “Romeo and Juliet.” So – for me – the ending was a MAJOR disappointment. Yeah, they both got successful in their “careers” (and she actually found and married someone else!) but they did not get each other. WHAT KIND OF LOVE STORY IS THAT??!!

  5. I couldn’t agree more! I’ve seen “La La Land” twice in a nice theater with a big screen (the screen opening up to “Cinemascope” thrilled me in way that only the opening sequence – the scrolled recap – of the first “Stars Wars” film did back in the 1970s … in Paris; I got it immediately and loved it.). I also recently saw “LLL” once more in its entirety on a flight to the US. I was also able to replay a number of my fav sequences on that trip. It’s so much fun and so moving. A European friend said, “We’d thought the America of our hopes and dreams had disappeared after the disastrous election last year, and then we saw ‘La La Land’ and knew in spite of everything that America is still there!”

    I also rank the songs as you did and think”City of Stars” – though quite nice – is not the most invented and fresh of the group. Gosling and Stone are wonderful. Keeping them ordinary, but also special, is an amazing feat, a strikingly original decision. It’s a film full of effortless references and reverences, intelligent and masterful at every turn. It deserved to be the “almost” Best Film at the Oscars (the graciousness of it’s producer was one of the evening’s high points). I’m also enjoying the various “Making of …” spin-offs available on the net. In short, I love this film and am waiting impatiently to own the DVD! .

  6. Kelly Johnson says:

    Movie was awesome… ‘Nuff said.

  7. isv says:

    I didn’t like it. It’s not a bad movie, of course. But I think there is something… wrong? I’m not talking about the bullshit that the idiots who are doing “cinemasiwhat” or “imdwhat” or “moviemiswhat” are talking about, if you like to see that Internet garbage, but, But, honestly, I really didn’t like it.

    By the way, Is Internet destroying cinema now? Including things like “The downloading digital copy” or “spoiling all things”websites?

  8. Jamie says:

    There is so much truth in this movie. It is easy to miss on a first viewing, but it is there. The Fools who dream and fail. The ones who dream and come back to a different reality. An bless them for keeping all our hopes alive, those rare ones who dream and see them come true. Whichever you are, there is something here and I’m with Sebastian below: Feet first. Always feet first.

  9. Sebastian Herics says:

    I wasn’t initially going to see this movie. Never been one for musicals.

    But a radio show did an interview with Hurwitz I believe? They played “Audition (The Fools Who Dream).”

    It was around 9 at night, I had a cup of coffee in my hands since I had work cut out for me, and everything just stopped.

    Dreams? God, I remember that word.

    Saw the movie. Loved it. Bought all the music. Fell asleep to it. Woke up. Listened to my old playlist with the Bird, Armstrong, Miles, and Coltrane. Listened to the film score on the city bus.

    Yes sir, I am jumping into the Seine feet first.

  10. Jean Telford-fendell says:

    Your review describes perfectly how I felt while seeing this movie. I will see it again, this time without my husband. I tried to explain the flashback and what if scenes to him; could have used your words then. Wonderful movie.

  11. LovedLaLaLand says:

    Before the movie was over I knew –at least– a second viewing was due, so this review was spot on, in my opinion. What a gorgeous work of art and instant classic. My all-time favorite film before seeing this was Umbrellas of Cherbourg, which I discovered about a decade ago and watch at least once a year. So many wonderful tributes to Demy within La La Land. What a celebration of creativity, joy, love, and heartbreak that touches the soul. I actually feel a little bad for anyone who doesn’t enjoy this movie, they are missing out on a tremendously lovely emotional ride.

  12. Chris U says:

    About that theme from “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg” – WHOA! THAT is a MONSTER!!! Thanks for the tip!

  13. Karen says:

    Owen Gleiberman, I saw La La Land for the second time yesterday. You are spot on with your review! This musical requires at least a second viewing to capture all it offers – much as one would let a bottle of fine red wine time to breathe and unfurl all it has to offer. The first viewing felt disjointed and a little disappointing (especially the ending). But, my oh my, when I saw it again yesterday I was enraptured by the sounds, sights, expressions and emotions – and the beautiful heartache. This musical is the most delectable confection, for sure. And the music is the heartbeat that thumps throughout the two hours.

  14. John Purchase says:

    This was a great movie under the surface. The palpable sense of loss, of people, places, genres, infused this movie. It was a look back at past golden age (of hollywood, musicals, jazz, LA ) which the present age cannot match. It was also a judgement on the meat grinder hollywood has become. I look forward to seeing this movie several more times so that I can appreciate all of the different themes and cinematic references in this beautiful ode to LA.

  15. Maryanne Rose says:

    This article absolutely nailed how I felt about this movie. I saw it twice, and both times the other
    people I saw it with didn’t really like it.

    Then I read your article. Your article put into words how I felt. What a relief.

  16. Just Saying says:

    I will never forgive them for shooting a scene on the 105/110 interchange and asking us to believe that it’s typical LA congestion when there are literally only ten cars on the entire expanse of the 110 below them stretching miles into the distance towards downtown.

    How could you not expect that ending? It was telegraphed painfully for a full 45 minutes longer than the film needed to be and every painful piano key plunk to City of Stars. As for the ridiculously long “what if” sequence, the only thing that was different was that he said “get lost” to John Legend and was suddenly devoted to her and everything she did. And she made ZERO sacrifices for HIS dreams in this warped reality.

    But what I cannot get past is that Damien Chazelle completely doesn’t understand how musicals (even if we’re only supposed to be in the musical form for the first half of the film as you state) even work. You sing when words aren’t enough to convey how you feel. The song is passion, fire, there is, as someone recently described it to me, “a YELP”. And instead you have 10 great moments that should have been musicalized and weren’t and are left with ones that make ZERO SENSE and take you nowhere. (Her “Audition” song is supposed to tell a story. She speaks prior to singing, ‘I had an aunt who lived in Paris and jumped into the Siene.’ Then she sings a verse repeating that exact same sentence but in rhyme and elucidates no further and the rest of the song is unending chorus of the moral to that non-story. Which I got the first time she said it before the music came in and the lights changed.)

    I get what it was trying to be, but other than a film snob/sophisticate/historian’s masturbatory fantasy, it fails on all accounts. It merely tried to emulate the masters, not understand why the masters work.

  17. Chinyere says:

    La La Land movie was a bitter-sweet experience for me. I just wished the movie had a more positive ending for the characters.

    I have a wild imagination. I keep on imagining that the theatrical release poster for the movie, which embodies the greatness of Hollywood and America as a whole could be transformed into a great painting (an iconic piece of art) and placed in one of America’s greatest museums – to be gazed upon by humanity, for many years to come!

    • Sean Fainsan says:

      I respectfully disagree with your negative sentiment and views of this film. First off, I understand what you are saying about the freeway scene although considering the theme of the movie, the irony of free flowing easy traffic below a congested lane is a perfect fit in my opinion. I applaud production considering they likely looked at applying CG affects to this scene and didn’t, showing genius in thought.

      Regarding the ending, It really isn’t about expecting this film to have masterfully misled the audience (which I feel has become a cliché in film today). This movie just isn’t about that and nor does it need to be. At this point in the film, Sympathy and Hope carry the audience through to blindly disregard common sense making the viewer wish for a storybook ending in the same lofty way as the movie flows. If anything, your sentiment shows just how good this movie is, because with our generation having become so desensitized where we have seen and done it all, somehow this movie pulls it off having us believe in life and love all over again in a new but old fashioned Hollywood kind of way which is honestly an amazing feat in today’s day and age.

      Considering not getting musicals, this goes with our generation having seen and done it all as well as the theme of the film about moving on from the past to embrace the new. I think if the film had followed the traditional musical format, it just wouldn’t work. It’s why we don’t make old styled musicals anymore. This film is imperfect like it should be and by saying it fails on all accounts may just be blissfully spot on when you realize it’s 2017 not 1952.

  18. John says:

    I just watched the movie tonight and felt physically heart-broken by the ending. I have spent the last hour or so reading about others’ opinions on the ending. This is by far the best interpretation and understanding of the movie and the ending. Though I still don’t like it, I feel I can accept it; like looking back at an old girlfriend that could have been.

  19. Ugh… another thought. She gave him such grief about “Settling” about his music and giving up on his dream, when he only did it so there was money in the till. Her One Woman, ONE NIGHT show!, that only she regards as a failure, afterwards, she then packs up and goes home! Seriously? She completely gave up and went “Home”! WTF?!

  20. She became famous because he pushed her to take the audition. Yet, after, she never bothered to look him up. Yes, they discussed that they would most likely be “over, but damn. She went on with her life, and he saw it all happen because she became public. To me, that’s messed up on her part. Did she really ever love him? He had to walk by a poster with her image on his way to his own club. How long did he have to deal with just that?! Let alone the news/media about her career?

  21. Ali Paras says:

    The ending of this movie made me cry my eyes out. I mean BAWL, as if I lost something/someone dear to me. (Still sobbing while I’m writing this by the way.) I would just like to point out that I am not a bawler when it comes to movies. I didn’t even cry at the end of Titanic for god’s sake! Anyway, I’m not sure if anyone else had that reaction but I’m guessing this movie somehow managed to coax my romantic side that I surreptitiously locked away in the deepest depths of my soul. Because when one tear started, a waterfall ensued and now there doesn’t seem to be an off switch. I cried for the love, for the what ifs, for the should haves and for the bitter sweet nature of the whole affair. It made me think of people who imprint their beings onto you. Who push you to be a little bit better, support you, and then love you enough to let you go, so you can follow your dreams wholeheartedly.

    I loved that the ending wasn’t a conventional one and one that I sure as hell didn’t see coming. It was a modern day love story woven with old Hollywood charisma. It was romantic, yet believable. And I guess that’s why I cried. The ending was everything to me. Either way, I definitely didn’t think a movie could spark that type of emotional investment out of this stone-cold terminator. It would seem I have a gushy centre after all.

  22. Michael Kerris says:

    I found myself laughing for pure joy, starting with the opening number and several times thereafter. Not from humor, but from joy. I haven’t felt that response so strongly since seeing the Aurora Borealis in their full glory for the first time. I have never laughed so hard at (with?) a movie when it wasn’t being funny.

    Then I watched Umbrellas of Cherbourg (thanks once again TCM!) with Chazelle’s commentary, which made my second viewing of La La Land so much richer.

    (Speaking of which… under the “window where Bogart and Bergman looked out in Casablanca,” the little shop has the title “Parapluies” above the window. Nice little wave to the cognoscenti.)

    Your rhapsody is beautifully and insightfully written. Your analysis of the structure made it click into focus… the film worked so seamlessly for me that I didn’t even realize I had shifted out of a musical and then back again.

    I like the poster’s idea that the whole alternate ending was actually contained in the tune Seb plays. On first viewing I thought, “It’s what might have been. On second viewing I thought, “It’s her fantasy, Or is it his?. Now I think it’s both… he played it for her, and she felt it too.

    Thanks for giving such eloquent expression to my experience.

  23. Michael Kerris says:

    Well said! I’ve seen it two and a half time, and after the second full viewing pretty much realized i need to watch it on a big screen about once a week for as long as it exists in that ephemeral condition.

  24. Lauren A Ng says:

    “Here’s to the hearts we break. Here’s to the mess we make.”

    What a mesmerizing, unforgettable film.

  25. Fred says:

    I am in total agreement with Owen’s review of this wonderful movie. Frankly, I can’t remember ever enjoying a movie as much as I have enjoyed this one. I’ve seen it twice, and will probably see it again. It grabbed me from the first few notes of the opening freeway scene. The music was great, the acting by Emma and Ryan was very moving, and the whole thing just kind of lifted me up. I didn’t go in with any expectations, and was kind of stunned in how much it affected me. Having two normal people doing the main singing and dancing to me made it even more charming. 2016 was a crappy year in a lot of ways, but seeing this film was for me an affirmation of life and love. I just LOVED it.

  26. mrmorodo says:

    As i watched the film I kind of ‘felt’ what you analysis explains; however, I was so hung up on the idea of wanting it to be a ‘singing in the rain’ style revivalist piece that I didn’t actually get the construction and change of tone (I just felt a little robbed…) I liked this film anyway for wearing it’s heart on it’s sleeve, but I think I’m going to like it a whole lot more the second time round – two endings for the price of one – the glitz balanced by a healthy dollop of reality! – Superb review!

  27. Amanda says:

    This is a fantastic article, I agree with a majority of the valid points you made throughout the article. I have not see “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg” but I am definitely going to check it out now.

  28. silasdogood1 says:

    I suspect you make people gag as a way of life.

    Sent from Yahoo Mail on Android

  29. Justin says:

    I liked “La La Land, but I didn’t love it. There is no way that it is superior to Jacques Demy’s “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg”, one of the most heartbreaking films ever made with the lilting music of the great Michel Legrand. Catherine Deneuve and Nino Castelnuovo are unforgettable as young lovers in that film. The farewell scene at the train station is one of the high points in the history of film. It was impossible for me to take my eyes off Deneuve during the final scene. She looked so sad and vulnerable and a little desperate. Sorry that Gleiberman didn’t get the ending of “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg”. It made perfect sense to me. (Warning: This next part may contain spoilers for those who haven’t seen the film.) It looked to me like Genevieve wanted to get back with her ex-boyfriend, but Guy had built a new life (even if it seemed less than idyllic) with Madeline and he didn’t want to open up old wounds. When Genevieve found out that Guy had married and had a child, there wasn’t much else for her to do but to head back to her Mercedes and drive away in the falling snow.

  30. Irene says:

    I liked the movie, but HATED the ending. The stuff before it had such hope and beauty that all that was significantly marred by the horrible ending. I felt gut punched. Can’t believe the overhype!

  31. goose says:

    Really well written!!

  32. Kevin Paige says:

    Perfectly put! A beautiful and rich review to match a beautifully rich film. Thank you.


    This is the best review I have read about this movie. The movie needs to be seen more than once. I love the musical numbers, but the ending was superb film making.

  34. Stephen Potter says:

    I’ve seen this movie 4 times and it completely caught me off guard, hitting me in the heart even stronger with each viewing. I honestly thought this is a movie that can’t be discussed without taking something from it, losing the magic. But your prose (I deliberately can’t call it a review because it’s more of a love letter) manages to put the essence of this film’s magic into words without losing the magic.

  35. Thad Beier says:

    The final song is even better than you said. It wasn’t that she imagined what life would be like. What *really* happened is that after being with the guy and experiencing jazz (which she used to hate) she got to the point where she could really get into it. There is no question that in his song he was *telling* that story, every detail of it, and she absorbed every nuance perfectly. Jazz by superb composers tells a story, and in this case it was the story of the life he wished he had.

    Up to that point in the film, I thought it was good. Once I saw the last song, I thought it was unbelievably awesome — everything in the two hours up to that point came together in the last five minutes. I’ve never seen a movie with such a perfect ending (well, maybe 2001: A Space Odyssey); I was stunned.

  36. Michael says:

    Unless you are dead inside you will like this movie if you give it a chance. I’m not really one for musicals, recalling Moulin Rouge as the only recent one I actually like. The opening number made me almost walk out of the theater, I was nauseated by it. Mia’s introductory scene was also grating but as soon as they cut to Seb’s introductory scene the movie transformed.

    It started with a chuckle. And what followed was a sweet and somber story of ambition and love. The ending was shocking and at the same time absolutely perfect. The two have struggled their entire lives to make it and even with their wild success, a part of them would trade it to be together. Their dreams at the beginning of the movie have come true but now they dream of what could have been if they stayed together. It is a punch to the gut and puts the entire movie into perspective.

    Beyond a simple beautiful story, the movie is fantastically shot with excellent lighting, choreography and songwriting. The acting was superb. Particularly Mia’s auditions were always interesting to watch, ranging from drama to comedy.

    I don’t understand the complaints from “purists” who knock the movie for not being like other musicals. “There aren’t enough songs”, “There isn’t enough dancing”, “The boy doesn’t end up with the girl” are all really dumb arguments. Movies don’t have to be exactly like other movies in their genre to be good. It’s often the outliers that take chances and can really surprise you and make you emote.

    Best movie I have seen in a very long time.

  37. Steve Corso says:

    These might be considered spoilers, so, here’s a lead in just in case.
    That last “what if” sequence also contained the clock from Singing in the Rain, a sailor dressed exactly like the 3 in Anchors Aweigh and bore a striking resemblance to the final ballet from An American in Paris.

  38. Elie says:

    Loved the film and agree wholeheartedly with the assessment and analysis. Frustrated, though, that you attribute all of the brilliance of the film’s songs to the composer alone with nary a mention of the lyricists Benj Pasek & Justin Paul — even while citing lyrics!

    • Dave says:

      You’re right — “She captured a feeling Sky with no ceiling Sunset inside a frame She lives in her liquor and died with a flicker I’ll always remember the flame” Ug. And the moment and the way she sung it. Perfection there.

  39. jim says:

    going to see a musical? I would rather watch paint dry.

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  41. Steve Berer says:

    Spot on, Owen. You nailed it! Couldn’t stop crying after I walked out of the movie, started all over again reading your review. Why? Because that’s what I always do in the presence of truly great art, realizing that in spite of everything, still, we pissass humans really can rise above the messes we make. And THAT adds a layer of elevation to this movie that is beyond exquisite.

    • Dave says:

      First movie I cried in purely because of the beauty and insight being depicted. Really only 3rd movie I’ve ever cried in — so it’s not like I’m a crier. :)

  42. Davey says:

    This second look made me reconsider some parts of the film, especially the last fabulous montage that I didn’t quite understand. I’m still not sure if it is from Mia’s POV. But I can’t agree that the director of La La Land has surpassed Jacques Demy. I’m sorry Gleiberman isn’t crazy about Demy’s fabulous two musicals. For one thing, though I actually loved La La Land the first time, it doesn’t have enough songs. And though a few are lovely, only a few of them are on the same high level of the work of Demy and Michel Legrand. And the Demy films has much stronger singing.

  43. David says:

    Thanks. I have not read you since EW — but saw this movie today and just want to bask in it through fellow admirers. Here’s my plot spoiler….it’s not so much the “other ending” would have been the musical we expected, but it might have been the movie another time — if Sebastian had zigged instead of zagged — created a different jazz riff so to speak. He played the song his way — sort of like his stubborn character might and well, like a true jazz fan, he didn’t care about the result. He was playing his song at the moment he wanted to play it.

  44. Rutegar says:

    Mmm … nah …

    It has some fun song and dance moments, but then so did the first season of GLEE.

    The songs are too forgettable and the plot (such as it is) too thin, hackneyed, and recycled for the film to be called ‘great’.

    I understand why people in LA (and Hollywood especially) have a particular sentimental attachment to the film, but it really doesn’t offer anything fabulously new for anyone outside those postcodes.

    Indeed, it feels a lot like an extended tourism commercial for LA in many ways.

    And ironically, constantly overblowing the hype for those who have yet to see the film actually does it a disservice.

    • Patricia says:

      I agree with you completely. Was deeply disappointed in the film.

    • silasdogood1 says:

      Suggest you check out IMBD.  93 meta score.  Won Critics Choice best picture and 7 others, Golden Globe nominated (7), Oscar nomination a lock:   89 wins and 149 nominations in 4 countries and counting,   Perhaps you saw a different La La Land.

    • Geo says:

      Actually it holds no interest for me as an Angeleno because it does not feel very authentic to LA

  45. Luke says:

    I had the exact opposite reaction. I love it the first time and then, I was bored as all hell the second time.

  46. Dolly says:

    Yes! I loved the movie…. and can’t wait to see it a second time! Thank you for explaining that satisfyingly unsatisfying itch I felt at the end… we fantasize about the life-that-coulda-been… and then, if we are awake, walk off-stage, perhaps gratefully, appreciatively, into the world our beautiful messes have made.

  47. John says:

    In a bigger picture, “La La Land” is really about inspiration. Chazelle filled the movie with symbolism. The musicals are “dream/fantasy”, the romance is “reality”. Griffith Park Observatory is the “goal” (shoot for the stars or stardom). Chazelle’s ultimate message is that dreams do come true in Hollywood (aka La La Land), if you just pursue it, and never give up). That final scene between Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone when they were sitting outside at the Observatory talking about where they go from here, it’s a foreshadowing of their goals are within reach, and that they have to choose the career path over love.

  48. Geo says:

    That who’s ending was not deserved. I do not mind it at all, but it did not feel organic to the film, and made Emma Stone’s character have even more unexplained than it started with (and basically, she is a cipher who is only defined by being am artist and liking a guy). This movie was so thin, with such a standard plot, light characters (even for a musical), and dots not connected. It has some fabulous moments, but man is it good not great.

  49. Will says:

    Variety’s reviews are my go-to source of movie criticism and I really appreciated this follow-up piece to my favourite movie of 2016. Its bittersweetness is haunting, and all the richer for the deliciously bright concoction of the first half. Thank you for nailing that in this article.

  50. KATHY says:

    I viewed this with my twenty something sons and they significant others…the opening scene was a little overwhelming…we all looked at each other and thought did we mess up on our choice of movie…then after a lil while I was sucked in. I did not even notice the change halfway through…but in the end I cried…it was reminiscent of the ending of The Way We Were. Bittersweet, with me saying they were meant to be together.

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