La La Land, 2016.
Directed by Damien Chazelle.
Starring Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, John Legend, Rosemarie DeWitt, Finn Whitrock, and J.K. Simmons.
A jazz pianist falls for an aspiring actress in Los Angeles.
How do you be revolutionary when you’re such a traditionalist? It’s a question that is presented to Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), a jazz pianist with high-minded ambitions to open up a jazz nightclub and rejuvenate the musical scene of the genre. Peeling back into another layer of the theme, it also raises the question of how the hell do you revolutionize a golden age Hollywood musical to fit the current times. The answer to both is that you don’t; forget being revolutionary and instead focus on the quality of your art for hours, days, months, and years until someone finally gives a shit. If you build it, they will come.
Continuing along, what Damien Chazelle (director of the also musically enlightened Whiplash) has crafted here with La La Land is pure magic. There doesn’t need to be any reinventing of the wheel with a movie this vibrantly colorful, gorgeously shot (each and every frame is often packed with detail, whether it be the bustling streets of Los Angeles or a ritzy bar filled with people snapping their fingers and tap dancing along to the tunes), beautifully acted with angelic singing of emotionally charged lyrics, and a love story so surprisingly serious that it actually wonderfully gels with the upbeat and often majestic breaking into of song and dance.
Even though La La Land is a film that absurdly begins with a traffic jam turning into an upbeat musical number (seriously, this is the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard of, especially as someone that must journey downtown to film screenings), the overall story Damien Chazelle tells packs an emotional punch. Similar to Whiplash, it is a story about ambitious dreamers dreaming big, with those dreams also interfering with other important aspects of their lives, forcing them to make difficult decisions. His artistic decision to tell the story broken up into chapters of the four seasons is one that pays off in spades, also featuring an epilogue of sorts that propels the film from greatness into pure master level film-making.
Another intriguing theme to ponder is which is more worth it: stable financial success working a gig that the heart isn’t completely in, or abandoning all of that highly respectable and worthwhile success to further chase seemingly impossible dreams. At what point do your feet touch back onto the ground of reality so you can give up something that possibly is not destined to be, so you can find something else that maybe you are meant to pursue? As previously mentioned, Sebastian wants to open up his jazz club and have it flourish, as he consistently and enthusiastically injects confidence into his flame Mia (Emma Stone), a very attractive aspiring actress who can’t seem to catch a break from casting agents. Their support for each other’s ambition is both their uprising and downfall.
It also needs to be said that everything about the relationship, from the random luck meetings insisting that fate is bringing them together for something special, to the poetic waxing regarding their lofty ambitions, to the numerous stunningly choreographed sequences of dance numbers, and more, is all pitch perfect. This is a relationship that blooms organically; something that audiences can buy into, which is something severely lacking in modern romances.
Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone have collaborated together previously multiple times, so it’s not surprising that they share a great degree of chemistry in La La Land, but this is without a doubt the best pairing yet of the duo. It all comes back to Damien Chazelle who has proven himself to be an expert at understanding the struggles and heartbreak that come from striving to attain realistically achievable dreams, and at writing characters who are then given dialogue, and in this case songs, that truly pop allowing the fireworks to happen. Whether it be an elaborate duet filled with deep lyrics and intricate dancing, or a scene of the couple arguing with each other about each other’s life goals, La La Land produces Oscar worthy material from everyone involved. Yes, literally everyone, ranging from directing, writing, acting, production design, cinematography, costume design… absolutely everything. Don’t be surprised when it leads the Oscar nomination count.
Director Damien Chazelle shoots for the stars and then breathtakingly frames his leads dancing together in the moonlight. And that’s just one of the again, highly elaborate, beautifully constructed song and dance numbers. The ending will assuredly leave audiences in a conflicted bittersweet state of mind, contemplating every move Sebastian and Mia made on their journey together. Also for certain is that the movie is unforgettable, and will hopefully find an audience in a market that doesn’t seem too giddy for musicals. Either way, Chazelle will continue following to the beat of his own drum, cranking out masterpieces that audiences will love, even if they don’t know it’s something they probably like and want. His films continue to make dreamers of us all.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★