- by Jeff Beck
La La Land: A Stunning Musical Masterpiece (Blu-ray)
Without a doubt, there was no film throughout all of 2016 that was more beloved and lauded than Damien Chazelle’s musical masterpiece “La La Land.” On top of its praise from audiences, it earned Best Picture awards from the majority of critics groups (including the Critics’ Choice), as well as top honors from The Producers Guild of America, the Golden Globes, and BAFTA. It may have been robbed of the Best Picture Oscar in a rather embarrassing gaffe by the Academy, but it hardly needed it to cement itself as the best film of the year (it still won the most Oscars with six and had a record-tying 14 nominations). But what is it about Chazelle’s musical that has made it earn this distinction and the universal love from all who lay eyes on it? To find the answer, we must dive into the wondrous world of lovers and dreamers in the harsh, unforgiving city of Los Angeles, where hopes and aspirations are made and broken every day.
We begin with a young woman named Mia (Emma Stone), who works at a coffee shop on the Warner Bros. lot, but has a strong desire to be an actress. The problem is that her auditions never seem to go very well, resulting in very few callbacks and a lot of disappointment. Meanwhile, she keeps randomly running into a young jazz pianist, Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), who dreams of opening his own club. After a less-than-friendly meeting during a traffic jam, he subsequently gives her the cold shoulder at a nightclub after getting fired from a gig for not sticking to the setlist. However, when they happen to meet at a party later on (where he is in an 80s cover band), they appear to kick it off, leading to even more encounters. As an official couple, they continue to pursue their dreams, but when he ends up joining a band with an old friend (John Legend) and going on the road, it starts to put a strain on their relationship, a strain that just might be too much for them to take.
“La La Land” is a film that’s best described as a mix of the old and the new. It’s a loving homage to musicals of the past that takes the style and flair of the genre and expands upon it in nearly every way. It’s the kind of film that, from the very opening number that features a large song & dance sequence on a highway (made to look like one shot, no less), you know you are going to be in for something very special, and indeed, as the film plays on, you become caught up in a whirlwind of incredible cinematography, gorgeous production design, brilliant direction, and beautiful costumes. It should come as no surprise that it won Oscars for the first three elements on this list. However, this is simply looking at the film on the visual level.
Taking a look at the film’s deceptively simple narrative, we find the story of two lovers pursuing their dreams in Los Angeles, a city that millions venture to in hopes of hitting it big in whatever career they have their heart set on (movies, music, dance, etc.). It’s a film about how big gambles need to be taken on that journey and how sometimes you have to settle on a variation of the dream until the real one can come true. And of course, it’s a story about love (which can sprout from the most unlikely of places) and how the pursuit of one’s ambitions can take a toll on your significant other.
Some would see the film and say that it’s a simple romance, but that would be a mistake, for Chazelle delves into the lives of Mia and Sebastian much further than just their emotional attachment. You could say that he explores their passion, their persistence, and their need to make their dreams come true. It’s the kind of universal journey that anyone who’s ever had an undying dream can understand, and not just in Los Angeles. This is a film that speaks directly to the dreamers in the audience, which is more than likely no small part of why it became so popular.
Then, of course, there’s the music. On top of the film’s marvelous visuals and its captivating story, there’s Justin Hurwitz’s glorious Oscar-winning score. Going back to the opening number (“Another Day of Sun”), as soon as you hear the opening rhythm, you can feel your feet tapping within seconds. Right away, we get a taste of how remarkable the songs are going to be, and this only continues with marvelous numbers like “Someone in the Crowd,” “A Lovely Night,” “Audition,” and the Oscar-winning “City of Stars.” It’s one of those rare films where, not only are the songs catchy, but you’ll find yourself whistling/humming the score right along with them. You can easily say that the music deserves just as much credit for the film’s success as its other major elements, if not more, for it takes the energy created by the visuals and the narrative and amplifies it, giving us songs that aren’t just there to sound pretty, but which actually help reveal a lot about the young lovers. In short, the film simply wouldn’t have been nearly as endearing without it.
The list of the film’s major achievements goes on and on, including a pair of excellent, Oscar-nominated performances from Emma Stone (now an Oscar winner) and Ryan Gosling, and a stunning “dream ballet” epilogue that will go down in history as a great accomplishment in itself, but suffice it to say that “La La Land” is an unforgettable experience, one that overflows with a love of cinema that you can feel in every beautiful frame. Chazelle and his team have created something magical here, a film that knows what it’s like to have a dream that you have to chase with all of your heart, a dream that could leave you with your head in the clouds in regards to everything else (that title was certainly no accident). Because of all of this and more, it really isn’t hard at all to see why it easily earns its rightful place as the best film of 2016.
“La La Land” comes to Blu-ray in a gorgeous 2.55:1, 1080p High Definition transfer of remarkable quality. The picture is beautifully sharp and clear throughout the entire 128-minute presentation, allowing the vivid colors of the magnificent Oscar-winning production design and the stunning precision of the Oscar-winning cinematography to shine. The Dolby Atmos Audio is pitch-perfect, giving you all of the dialogue, the Oscar-nominated sound, and Justin Hurwitz’s masterful, Oscar-winning music in outstanding quality. Overall, you simply couldn’t ask for better quality than this, leaving you with a home release that is nothing short of sublime.
Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Damien Chazelle and Composer Justin Hurwitz: An excellent commentary in which Chazelle and Hurwitz give you all kinds of fascinating behind the scenes info about making the film.
Another Day of Sun: They Closed Down a Freeway (11 Minutes): A great featurette that goes behind the scenes of the opening musical number.
La La Land’s Great Party (5 Minutes): A featurette that goes behind the scenes of the
“Someone in the Crowd” musical number.
Ryan Gosling: Piano Student (5 Minutes): A featurette that explores how Ryan Gosling learned to play piano for the film.
Before Whiplash: Damien Chazelle’s Passion Project (10 Minutes): A fascinating featurette that discusses the background of the film and how it came about.
La La Land’s Love Letter to Los Angeles (7 Minutes): A featurette that discusses the importance of Los Angeles in the film.
The Music of La La Land (14 Minutes): A featurette that examines one of the film’s central characters: the brilliant, Oscar-winning music.
John Legend’s Acting Debut (5 Minutes): A brief, easily-skippable featurette that focuses on John Legend.
The Look of Love: Designing La La Land (9 Minutes): An outstanding featurette that explores the film’s gorgeous, Oscar-winning production design.
Ryan and Emma: Third Time’s the Charm (6 Minutes): A featurette that takes a look at the chemistry between Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone.
Epilogue: The Romance of the Dream (8 Minutes): A featurette that delves into the film’s unforgettable and beautifully-made finale.
Damien & Justin Sing: The Demos (5 Minutes): Two brief demos that have the director and composer singing early versions of “A Lovely Night” and “City of Stars.”
With its gorgeous visuals, captivating narrative, and phenomenal music, “La La Land” easily earns its place as the very best film of 2016. It’s no wonder why it earned a list of awards that runs a few miles long, including most of the Best Picture prizes and six Academy Awards (including Best Director, Best Actress, and Best Original Score). The Blu-ray features a ton of outstanding special features and the film itself in fantastic quality, making this one of the must-own releases of the year and one that should be picked up on day one.
Available on Blu-ray and DVD starting tomorrow.
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