Blu-Ray Pick of the Week: La La Land

Winner of six Oscars, and one of the loveliest movies you will ever see, "La La Land," debuts on Blu-Ray this week. 

It didn’t win Best Picture, but it could have. ”La La Land” is one of the most vibrant, captivating, and entertaining movies to come out of Hollywood in a long time. The fact that it also tells an emotionally resonant love story with top notch acting from its two stars, Ryan Gosling and Best Actress Oscar winner Emma Stone, is the sweet, delicious icing on an already fabulous cake.

Right off the bat, “La La Land” lets us know what we’re in for. The movie treats us to an upbeat, fantastically choreographed song and dance number featuring dozens of performers stuck in traffic on an LA freeway. If only the real life traffic on the 405 were this much good natured fun. “La La Land” sets the stage of not only where we are and when, but also clues us in to the audio and visual splendor to come. And boy, does it ever come.

After having the exact opposite of a meet cute on the freeway after the opening number (he honks at her and she flips him off), we’re shown glimpses into the lives of Sebastian (Gosling) and Mia (Stone). She’s a struggling actress working in a coffee shop on a movie studio lot. The auditions come but work is hard to find, especially when there are hundreds of other young women who look, dress, and sound very similar to her. Casting directors get a bad rep for being rude and/or aloof, but it’s easy to see how they get that way. After hearing the umpteenth auditioner read her lines the same way as every single other one that has come before her, it’s hard to not get jaded.

Sebastian is an extremely talented jazz pianist. He believes in the purity of jazz and is sickened that his beloved art form is dying a slow death. His dream is to open up his own jazz club and revitalize the music he holds so dear. However, that dream takes money, and he has none. It gets even worse when he refuses to play the corny Christmas tune set list the proprietor of a local bar, played by J.K. Simmons, tells him to play, gets fired, and winds up playing “I Ran” with an ‘80s cover band at a pool party in the hills. Fitting that he’s dressed like a reject from A Flock of Seagulls at the time.

The music of the ‘80s aside, the Oscar winning score by composer Justin Hurwitz is a large part of what gives “La La Land” its kick. His jazz infused numbers, complete with clear sounding bass lines and drums played with brushes, brighten the movie and underscore the emotion perfectly. Then there are the songs, which service the story well, and when paired with the dance numbers create a rich audio-visual experience. Hurwitz co-wrote the Best Original Song Oscar winner “City of Stars" (he did the music), and it is a testament to his talent.

Gosling and Stone are great together, and the romance between their two characters is pitched perfectly. Damien Chazelle became the youngest Best Director Oscar winner in the history of the Academy for his direction of “La La Land.” His talent is best on display in a scene in which Sebastian makes Mia a surprise dinner. Dramatically speaking, the scene goes from one extreme peak of emotion to its polar opposite. Under the guidance of a ham-fisted director, particularly one who does not know how to work with actors, a scene such as this would come across as contrived or cliché. Luckily, Chazelle is a director who knows how to work with actors and knows how to hit the right note at just the right time in the scene to get it from dramatic point A to dramatic point B in the most impactful and true way possible. It’s not unlike playing scales on a piano—very jazz direction for a very jazz movie.

Ultimately what I love about “La La Land” the most is the characters. I root for both Sebastian and Mia to find success and happiness, not only with each other, but with life itself. They each have dreams and goals for their lives. Their relationship is fantastic and healthy because each one is there to prop the other one up. It’s okay that Mia has doubts about her acting because Sebastian believes in her. Likewise, Mia refuses to let Sebastian sell out and give up on his dream of owning his own jazz club. These two complement and care about each other in a way rarely seen in movies. “La La Land” moves beyond the carnal lust and passion that drive so many romances since those elements, while titillating, are ultimately superficial. “La La Land” delves in deeper, deals with love, and shows us why Sebastian and Mia are in love with each other. For that, I can’ thank this movie enough except to say Buy it, watch it, and love it: La La Land [Blu-ray]!

Also New This Week

Underworld: Blood Wars

The Vampire and Lycan (aka werewolf) feud continues in “Underworld: Blood Wars,” which I can only hope is the last installment in this completely stale franchise (future prediction: I will write this same sentence when reviewing the latest “Resident Evil” installment when that comes out on Blu-ray). While Kate Beckinsdale still looks good in her skin tight leather costume as Vampire Death Dealer Selene, the rest of the movie--from the dark, cold tones to the banal characters to the silly plotting to the insipid action—is essentially a rehash of what was already done pretty poorly in previous “Underworld” movies. This is truly a movie with nothing new to offer in any way. Skip it.

More New Releases: “Catfight,” about a decades old college rivalry that re-emerges when two women attend the same glamorous event, starring Sandra Oh, Anne Heche, Alicia Silverstone, and Dylan Baker; and “The Girl with All the Gifts,” about a scientist, a teacher, and a special young girl who embark on a journey of survival in a dystopian future, starring Sennia Nanua, Gemma Arterton, and Glenn Close.

Andrew Hudak is a lifelong film lover. His column on Blu-Ray new releases appears every Tuesday. He lives in Connecticut.

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