La La Land.
This is a type of movie that isn’t made anymore. It opens with an offramp full of cars stuck in traffic and those drivers proceed to leave their cars and engage in a huge sweeping musical number. Immediately you know what you’re in for. If you’re fan of the classic musical formula, La La Land might be perfect for you.
We immediately meet two characters and it’s through them that this entire movie unfolds. Mia (Emma Stone) is an aspiring actress, working as a barista on the Warner Bros lot in Hollywood. She is struggling and down on her luck when she runs into a jazz pianist named Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), who aspires to open his own jazz lounge in Hollywood to save the dying art of jazz altogether. We follow as their stories intertwine, asking big questions about art and innovation and dreams, all in a romanticized version of Los Angeles.
This movie is incredible and hopefully it will open to more theaters as January approaches. It feels like it’s from another era, though you are reminded every once in a while that it takes place today. But maybe this romanticized Hollywood is timeless?
Let’s start with Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone. They are fantastic, each perfectly balancing an aspiring and optimistic artist with a downtrodden and beaten realist. They have ups and downs and situations that are eerily familiar, though our problems aren’t often set to music. While the situations are grounded, the movie definitely is not. Dance numbers suddenly take to the sky, our leads dancing among the stars. Sequences often include overtly painted murals for backgrounds, in lieu of a real location. It’s artistic, embellishing everything about the city of angels and why people flock there for stardom.
It’s much more than just a cheery tale of optimism, it’s also very sad in moments, as hopes and dreams don’t always come true. It’s beautiful, even in its tragedy.
Director Damien Chazelle obviously has a fondness and appreciation for music, as La La Land follows up his first big picture Whiplash. The music here is incredible, as I found myself wanting to replay the soundtrack immediately. The main theme of our two lovers is one that it used to perfection in the context of the movie.
This movie should appeal to a lot of different audiences, but most notably anyone with a passion. Something that they care about passionately. That’s what this movie is all about, how we can find that passion and do that thing for a career, and if that decision comes easy. There are regrets and missed opportunities and heartbreak, along with celebration and rejoicing and absolute bliss. This movie blends them all perfectly, with a climax that is both heartbreaking and absolutely beautiful.
What doesn’t work?
As a film, I have no qualms. You just have to know what to expect. If the thought of an extended tap dancing number doesn’t sound exciting, you may not enjoy this. If our leads break out into song spontaneously, will that irritate you? This genre isn’t for everyone, so think about that going in.
La La Land is nearly perfect, with two incredible performances anchoring it. It elevates everything to a state of art, where blissful moments become dancing among the stars. It is superficially fun and vibrant, but it also asks some big questions about traditionalism versus innovation and compromise and what it truly means to follow your dreams. Absolutely beautiful.