-A sunny musical from wiz-kid Damien Chazelle and an awards-worthy look from Jessica Chastain.

In a prior time, actors and actresses would frequently get paired together for an on-screen romance in the manner of a Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, but as Hollywood became more saturated and the times changed, many of the Hollywood super-couples tended to die out with actors focusing on many different types of work. The pairing of Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone (their third along with Crazy, Stupid, Love and Gangster Squad) is as close to that old style as we’ve had in years, and their chemistry has made another film completely delightful.

It certainly helps that they’re directed by one of the hottest commodities in the film industry right now in Damien Chazelle, the director of Whiplash, who is already forging a great career in movies despite such a limited look. Although La La Land‘s tone and style may not be for everyone, it is exquisitely directed and edited, so there’s plenty of acclaim for this film to go around.

The story focuses on two dreamers who meet in Los Angeles, both in pursuit of bona fide entertainment careers. The first is Emma Stone’s Mia, a young actress who shares a flat with other young actresses, and travels from audition to audition while working as a barista. The second is Ryan Gosling’s Sebastian, a jazz piano purist who dreams of one day opening up his own jazz club to pay homage to the classics. As they begin a romance, they deal with the mounting pressures between their careers/dreams and the ability to live a structured life at home.

The film shows Los Angeles very beautifully, doing a nice job of allowing the camera to really soak up the sun and enjoy the skylines and the landscapes. In addition, the first number, all set in LA traffic on a freeway, is probably the most Los Angeles looking and sounding sequence that I’ve ever seen in a movie personally. Damien Chazelle does an excellent job of directing the look of the film to a unique palette, but he also manages to craft very interesting characters as well.

Gosling’s Sebastian is another addition to the constantly impressive career for him after several Oscar-worthy looks over the last few years. He won’t win, but another nomination would be nice after Gosling learned to do a ton of tap dance and piano for this movie. Stone, in contrast, is very solid, but definitely the less showy performance. Neither her or Gosling are great singers or dancers, but they both manage to do that stuff in a passable way that really lets their characters seep into the movie. Emma Stone is very vulnerable, naive, but also very emotionally developed in this film, and despite a few scenes of slight over-acting, she does a really nice job too.

Damien Chazelle definitely has a niche, and the musical backdrop of his films is unique and has given him his own style, very much about “keeping jazz alive.” I may not be praising La La Land in the “best film of the year” fashion that some are, but I had a great time watching it, and the emotional ending was just fantastic when their relationship comes to a head. I love the chemistry of the actors and I love the vision, even if the songs aren’t great (minus “City of Stars.”) Overall, La La Land is a nice movie about pursuing dreams and about the crazy facade that is the West Coast fantasy.

 

4 stars

La La Land (2016)

Genre: Romance

Director: Damien Chazelle (Whiplash, Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench)

Starring: Emma Stone, Ryan Gosling, John Legend, Rosemarie DeWitt, and JK Simmons

RT Score: 93%

 


Sometimes an actor alone can uphold the crushing weight of a movie entirely by themselves just by giving everything in one, central, electric performance. Such is the same with Miss Sloane, a messy awards-season vehicle which completely relies upon the fantastic work of Jessica Chastain, in yet another showcase of why she may be the best actress working today. Whether it be the more showy roles with The Help, A Most Violent Year, or Zero Dark Thirty, or the more reserved looks in films like Take Shelter, The Tree of Life, or even The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby, Chastain has managed to carve a nice career out over the last five years, and Miss Sloane is just another notch in a career of good performances. It’s exactly what I said above about Ryan Gosling: it’s awards-season, and the big players are coming out to contend.

The film centers around a Washington lobbyist who gets interviewed by the gun lobby to handle a campaign against a Congressional bill that would call for universal background checks in gun-handling. When she refuses, she leaves her large-scale firm to work for a smaller entity opposing the gun lobby and campaigning for the background check bill. Her new team (including actors like Mark Strong and Gugu Mbatha-Raw) is now pitted against her old team who takes the case without her (including Michael Stuhlbarg and Alison Pill). When the old team begins trying to attack her personally, rather than compete with her ruthless methods, there are secrets that begin to get passed around, possibly involving an escort Chastain has hired (Jake Lacy) or a corrupt U.S. senator (John Lithgow).

There are some twists that are a bit over-the-top, and there is definitely a sense of drama that is played up for the camera, but the film itself is shot and presented much like a thriller, despite a more drama-centric plot-structure. It’s a nice deviation in a film almost entirely about politics, with a lot of quick cuts and stylish costumes. It seems like the director (John Madden of Shakespeare in Love and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel) wanted this to be sleek and fulfilling in a way that showcases Chastain and remains a bit exciting, even if it gets a bit silly or far-fetched at times. For me, anchored by an Oscar worthy Chastain (she won’t get it because the movie around her is too messy, but she’s in the “maybe” category for a possible nomination), the movie is entertaining and proficient enough to recommend. I didn’t get upset at some of the silly decisions. It’s a fun political movie with a great performance, but for sticklers about self-seriousness, this is a movie that you may not enjoy.

4 stars

Miss Sloane (2016)

Genre: Drama

Director: John Madden (Shakespeare in Love, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, The Debt)

Starring: Jessica Chastain, Michael Stuhlbarg, Mark Strong, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, and Alison Pill

with: Jake Lacy, John Lithgow, and Sam Waterston

RT Score: 69%

 

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