film, SPOTLIGHT, writing

REVIEW: La La Land @ TIFF16

Ahh, La La Land. Where do I begin?

On Sunday afternoon, I gladly waited in line outside of Roy Thomson Hall for 3 hours (OK maybe 2.5 outside and 30 min happily seated inside in what may be the best of the cheap seats… Surprise! All seats were free. Hence the 3 hours. But they really were great seats.) in the Toronto heat. Why would any sane person do such a thing?

Bragging rights. Yes, I said it, bragging rights. Why else does anyone (besides the stars/directors/other cast/crew/media and press… oh and also paparazzi) go to film festivals such as Sundance, TIFF and Cannes? Yes, a love of cinema, but really that’s just the guise pride hides behind. I mean, do you know anybody who goes to a semi-exclusive event that doesn’t instagram/snapchat the hell out of it / bring it up at every dinner party in the week thereafter? (Guilty on both counts, this is me sheepishly raising my hand and putting it back down). Anyway. This is not what you’re here for. You’re here for my supremely unqualified review of La La Land! Without further ado. God bless your lovely, lovely hearts.

Watch this. Here is some background knowledge you’re gonna need.

To distill it to a single sentence, La La Land is a musical love story set in L.A. between a down-on-his-luck jazz musician and a wannabe-actress. Sounds over-simplistic? Have I boiled it down too far? I really haven’t, because this is literally what the full 2 hours and 6 minutes are about. It is a simple, simple love story, that which doesn’t involve a wife back at home, or a long-term boyfriend, or really, any complications that would impede the start of a relationship between Sebastian, played by Ryan Gosling, and Mia, played by Emma Stone.


Not even that car is an impediment. (Image courtesy of Cousart/JFXimages/

Is this simple plot enough to fill 126 min? I think it is. Not once did I look around the theater bored, nor did I look at my watch.

The music is the real star of this film. What do I think of Gosling and Stone’s voices? To be honest, I wasn’t wowed by either upon first listen (although I do love me some Dead Man’s Bones, which is Ryan Gosling’s band). As the film progressed though, I really looked forward to listening to them sing. The film is marketed as a musical but there really isn’t that much singing in it — but when they do sing, the film expands and fills your ribcage like a balloon about to pop. You will be moved. Same with the cinematography — it is just beautiful.

It’s like the old films from the 50s, where everything was shot so intentionally, everything perfectly framed. My favorite scene is when Sebastian and Mia sit at Sebastian’s piano, and together they sing the song playing in the trailer. They are bathed in a greenish light, from the green backdrop behind them — were they curtains in his apartment? I can’t remember. I may have to revisit this paragraph after the film has its wider release. But the image is one that stays in your head, and I thought the bold pop of color in that scene in an otherwise dimly-lit set was a smart way to ensure a lasting impression on the audience. Emma Stone’s character has a steal-the-show scene towards the end of the film that will make you take back any doubts you may have had about her singing ability.

What was my favorite part? Any time Ryan Gosling touches the piano. Honestly. If anything, pay 13 bucks for that.

There were some cheesy bits. At one point, the leads waltz across a greenscreen of stars in a night sky. But, this was redeemed when they go to the Griffith Observatory immediately after watching Rebel Without a Cause, and both shots of the car pulling into the observatory are framed the same beautiful way. Continuity! La La Land is as much a love to story to L.A. as it is to its lead characters.

After the final credits rolled, I thought to myself: I’m going to have to watch Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash… even though I can’t stand Miles Teller’s fleshy-lidded dull stare. Speaking of, Miles Teller and Emma Watson were originally slated to star in La La Land, although both of them dropped the project. Would it have been the same with Teller in the lead role? I doubt it. Can Emma Watson sing? This is the first I’m hearing of this possibility.

Damien Chazelle and Emma Stone

Final verdict: A definite feel-good crowd-pleaser. Excellent original music, a visual treat, no real flaws to speak of, just a few nits to pick. Would I go see it again in December? Probably not. I still felt like it could’ve had a larger emotional impact. It’s not an epic love story, but it’s a charming love story that will probably remind you of a certain someone in your life. La La Land doesn’t place in my top-5 movie musicals, and I personally wouldn’t nominate it for an Oscar (I can already hear the shouts of Heresy! On second thought, maybe I would for its set design. Hmm.), but it was thoroughly enjoyable. Was it worth the 3-hour wait? Yes, but only coupled with bragging rights and the chance to write this review before its general release. I am nothing if not honest.


Every year on the last day of TIFF, Grolsch hosts a free screening of the People’s Choice Award-winning film of the festival. This is a great way to take part in TIFF without paying for its pricey and frequently sold-out tickets. Here are my tips:

Roy Thomson Hall

Clear your Sunday afternoon. The screening doesn’t start til 6, but there’s a reason why they start issuing tickets free of charge 2 hours prior. Get to the venue at least an hour before free-ticket-time, because you best believe there’s going to be a line-up. Wear comfy sneakers! Don’t worry about dressing up. Tons of people were in shorts, a t-shirt and flip flops — why anyone wears flip flops downtown is beyond me — you’re about a centimeter away from walking the city barefoot, but I digress. Comfy shoes are a must for your wait or else you’re going to be miserable. If you’re a social media type, don’t forget to snapstagram… Don’t forget about the cool TIFF-specific geofilters.

Geofilters ain’t no joke, people.

And clean up after yourselves! You wouldn’t believe how much garbage was left in the aisles and under the seats after the screening, for both the free event on Sunday, and the paid event we went to on Wednesday. People. You are not babies. You. Are. Supposed. To. Be. Cinemistes! Act like one. POFA!


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