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Featured Blu-ray and DVD Review: La La Land

April 24th, 2017

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La La Land

La La Land was one of the best-reviewed films of the year and inarguably the biggest player during Awards Season. In fact, it earning 14 Oscar Nominations, tying the record previously set by All About Eve and Titanic. However, this caused a bit of a backlash against the film. Is the film as good as its Awards Season run would indicate? Or did it only do as well as it did, because it was practically designed to sway Oscar voters?

The Movie

The film begins in winter with a musical number set on a Los Angeles freeway. After the dancing is over, we see Sebastian and Mia have their meet-cute, in a manner of speaking. They are both stuck in the traffic jam, but Mia is practicing lines for an audition, so when the traffic starts moving again, she doesn’t notice right away and Sebastian honks his horn repeatedly as he pulls ahead of her and she flips him off.

Mia is a barista at a studio lot, but is also an aspiring actor. We see her go on an audition, but it doesn’t go well. That night she just wants to stay home, but her roommates invite her to a party. One song and dance number later and she’s convinced to go. The party isn’t that great and she calls it a night when she sees that her car was towed. While walking home, she comes across a restaurant, hears jazz coming from within and is immediately captivated by the piano player. Before we see who the piano player is, we flack back to ...

Sebastian being a prick. When we first see him honking at Mia, it makes sense, because the traffic is moving, but she’s not. However, we see from his perspective that the gap between Mia’s car and the next one is about three car lengths and the traffic in front of her isn’t moving. ... at this point, I realized I wasn’t being drawn into the movie like I should have been. If I was being drawn in, I wouldn’t be nitpicking like this. When he gets home, he finds his sister, Laura, who is a little worried about him. He is obsessed with starting his own jazz club, but was taken by a con artist the last time he tried. He does have a job, playing piano at a restaurant. The owner insists he sticks to the set list and doesn’t do any free jazz. You can guess how long he keeps that up for. Just after he’s fired, Mia comes into the restaurant and tries to compliment him. He doesn’t just ignore her, he practically shoulder checks her on his way out of the door.

Flash forward to Spring and a party Mia is attending. There’s a really cheesy 80s cover band playing at the party and its keyboard player is Sebastian. When the lead singer asks for request, Mia requests “I Ran” by the Flock of Seagulls. It’s a good song, so Sebastian saying it’s beneath him as a “serious musician” just makes me dislike him more. And yes, Mia is a barista, but she’s still seven levels above Sebastian, who is a music snob who keeps getting fired as a result. They would be on the same level if she kept getting low-level acting jobs only to be fired for being a diva on set. Think Dustin Hoffman’s character from Tootsie.

After the party, the pair walk to their cars and we finally have some chemistry between the two leads. Unfortunately, Mia has a boyfriend, so while she and Sebastian start to enjoy each others company the timing is wrong. Is this the end of a budding romance? Or just a temporary obstacle?

I’m of two minds when it comes to La La Land. There are some things it does very well, including evoking a feeling of a different age. Damien Chazelle was clearly inspired by the classic MGM musicals from the 1950s. This is especially evident with the film’s use of colors and the more fanciful elements of some of the musical numbers. I loved the style and the movie looks great as a result. Another element I really liked with the movie is the message it tells. This is a major spoiler for the end, so beware. One of the messages of the movie is, it is really hard to make your dreams come true and sacrifices sometimes have to be made. This is obviously not the first movie to make that point; however, in this movie, sacrifices include the main relationship in the movie. You don’t often see that in a movie, but it is closer to real life than what we usually see. The acting is also great, although I wouldn’t have given Emma Stone the Oscar for Best Lead Actress. Personally, I think Amy Adams deserved the win, but she wasn’t even nominated.

On the downside... Sebastian. The character is just so annoying. There’s a difference between liking an art form, any art form, and being a complete snob about it. He thinks even if you like jazz, but not the same type of jazz he likes, then you are doing it wrong. People like this drive me nuts. Granted, I’m not a huge jazz fan, but I do have some jazz in my mp3 playlist, along with rock’n’roll, R&B, electronica, classical, country, heavy metal, punk, hip hop, funk, indie rock, even some opera. People who are purists to an irrational degree just deny themselves great experiences. It’s like the people who booed Bob Dylan when he went electric. There’s a difference between celebrating the history of an art form and denigrating anything that evolves from that art form. Because Sebastian was such a music snob, I wasn’t as invested in the relationship as I needed to be to really get into the movie. The actors are great together, but the characters are not. On a related note, did no one think having a white guy trying to save jazz from John Legend was an issue? I also wouldn’t have given the film the Oscar for Best Original Song. None of the songs were real standouts and that’s a serious issue for a musical. For the most part, the choreography and cinematography was more impressive than the actual music.

Overall, La La Land is a good movie, but not a great movie. It certainly isn’t as good as its 14 Oscar nominations would indicate.

The Extras

There are not a lot of extras on the DVD. There is an audio commentary track, a short featurette about Los Angeles, and another short featurette about Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling. That’s enough to be a rental.

The Blu-ray, on the other hand, has plenty of exclusive extras, mostly in the form of making of / behind the scenes featurettes. The longest of these is, unsurprisingly, about the music. There are also featurettes about filming the opening scene, Ryan Gosling learning to play the piano, John Legend’s acting debut, etc. Overall, the total running time of all of the featurettes is nearly 90 minutes. That’s a lot, even compared to other first-run releases.

The Verdict

La La Land isn’t as good as its Awards Season performance would indicate, but it isn’t as bad as some of the backlash makes it out to be. Had the film earned a handful of Oscar-nods and won a couple, I think it would have been more acceptable to most people. Fortunately, the DVD and Blu-ray Combo Pack are loaded with extras, so it is worth picking up. In fact, the competition is light, so it is even a Pick of the Week contender.

Filed under: Video Review, La La Land, Dustin Hoffman, Amy Adams, Rosemarie DeWitt, Ryan Gosling, John Legend, J.K. Simmons, Emma Stone, Damien Chazelle, Finn Wittrock