Because of the fact that Damien Chazelle’s (Whiplash) film is in the style of an old fashioned Hollywood musical I feel that many who see it will lose the trees for the forest. What I mean is that there is a depth to La La Land; it is not all just song and dance. The depth comes courtesy of the two prime questions that it asks. Can one seemingly small act on our part change our whole path in life and does the pursuit and grasping of your dream(s) guarantee one a happy life. Those two questions come rather in the 99th hour of the film, so maybe they are overlooked within all the song and dance that proceed them. If you do make the time to absorb them they will have you pondering about them long after the theatre lights go up.
Now certainly I am not asking you to totally ignore all the song and dance of the film as they are some of the best parts. Movies like this went out of style long ago and that is a shame. There is a certain feeling you get while watching a song and dance film. Right away it brings out the youth within you. That part of you that was probably left behind as you matured and became more cynical. It is a film of this sort that will reawaken the young person that remains inside of you. It will remind you of the possible magic of film. I don’t think I am overstating things. Go in with an open mind and heart and you will be amply rewarded.
It is a simple story of a boy and a girl falling in love. Two who seem to be opposites clicking. She is hopeful and bright while he is dour and dark. Still the work well together. Sebastian (Ryan Gosling – The Big Short, Crazy Stupid Love) is a talented jazz pianist living in Los Angeles in a time where jazz is dying. Despite this he is determined to bring life back into his passion. Sebastian’s dream is to buy a property that was formerly a legendary jazz club and return it to its former glory calling it Chicken on a Stick. His whole life revolves around this pursuit. So much so that he has no even unpacked the boxes in his apartment. Things are not going well as he cannot make any money as the job he has at a club forces him to compromise his ideals by playing Christmas songs and not jazz.
Mia (Emma Stone – The Help, Birdman), originally from Colorado, is working at a coffee shop on the Warner lot while she goes to painful audition after audition in the pursuit of her dream of being an actress. She has wanted to act since she was a young girl. Inspired by her actress aunt, Mia has moved to Hollywood like many other young women hoping to be “discovered”.
After running into each other a couple of times, what first begins as mutual disgust a romance blooms. Both continue pursuing their dreams while living together. Things become a lot less clear when success meets one of them and it is not all they believed it to be.
Pursuing your dreams is never cut and dry. With it brings joy and pain. Makes you reevaluate what it is you truly want. Chazelle’s homage to film musicals of long ago (it is even filmed in Cinemascope) is a delight. It allows the two leads – Stone and Gosling – the opportunity to showcase the breadth of their talent. They can act, sing (passibly) and dance (better). The complete package, the two of them. Though the script does give Emma Stone more of an opportunity in the singing category. She is not the greatest singer (for the most part her voice is weak and occasionally sharp), but makes up for what she lacks by bringing plenty of emotion to what she is doing.
I loved all the references to classic Hollywood and its films like Casablanca, An American in Paris, Stage Door, A Star is Born, Oklahoma, Rebel Without a Cause, and Funny Face. Despite all the looking backwards there is no doubt that this is a modern film. There are cell phones and Priuses, for God’s sake! There is a continuous tug of war battle between old and new in La La Land. It is this battle that remains at the heart of this romance. Cute. Corny. But always entertaining.
For me from the opening moments with that great song and dance number set in L.A. freeway traffic, the film was irresistible. But I am a sucker for the genre. Though it is done in a way that makes it palatable for a wide audience. Plus it stars two of the most popular young actors of this day. All is there to set the film apart from most of the others released over the past year. As such, it will do well during the award season.