I can’t remember the last I felt so enamored witnessing art. Maybe that’s because this is the first year in a long time where I haven’t seen every Oscar nominated film and hence haven’t been able to witness the artistic genius that’s deserving of such accolades; nevertheless, La La Land is a stunning piece of vibrant storytelling.
After the old-school Summit logo and Chazelle’s Cinemascope presentation we get to jump into the reality of L.A. where people spend hours stalled in traffic under the insufferable heat of winter. Surely this sounds horrible, but as Chazelle presents us with the reality of L.A., he also gives us the dream-like nature of La La Land as people begin to jump out of their cars to join in a rapturous song and dance number introduces us to La La Land. Chazelle presents each take like a moving painting as he inundates the cinematography with bright and bold colors that swirl together before the screen. The dancing’s rather stilted if I’m going to be honest, but it works. The reason being that it makes everyone in L.A. seem like humans with aspiring dreams and not these perfectly trained actors and singers that would take away from the humane sensibilities our main characters exhibit.
Mia Dolan (Emma Stone) is a barista at the Warner Bros. lot where all she can do is gaze upon the dream she set out to chase six years ago yet still hasn’t been able to fulfill. Stone does a brilliant job in conveying what it’s like to be a dreamer stuck in the confines of reality. Like millions of other young girls pursuing the same dream, Mia Dolan has the potential to be the next Audrey Hepburn yet she could also just be perpetually trapped in this coffee shop until realizing the dream’s dead and the only option she’s got is to move back home in the pursuit of a new career. At the heart of it all, that’s what La La Land’s about, it’s a film about The Fools Who Dream as Emma Stone so beautifully sings it.
Opposite Dolan, there’s Sebastian, a devote worshipper of jazz who happens to have been misplaced in time in an era where jazz is slowly dying away. Not on Sebastian’s watch, he wants to open the best jazz club in L.A. where artists will be able to liberally practice jazz and immortalize jazz. Reality check, Seb’s broke and jobless, stuck playing Christmas carols and when he tries to fight back by playing heartfelt jazz he’s immediately fired on Christmas Eve and with nowhere to go now he finds himself as the keyboardist to a lame retro 80’s band that plays at parties. Then these two dreamers meet and in a beautiful melody that immediately establishes they were made for each other we’ve got ourselves a classic love story that might not seem original but plays as counter-cultural in a way, deciding to abandon the tropes of modernity and hailing back to the musical storytelling of masters like Jacques Demy and Gene Kelly.
At the heart of it all, La La Land is a classic musical to the fullest extent, constantly tipping its hat to the aforementioned Demy and Kelly and while some may scrutinize the film for borrowing too much, I’d say Chazelle does a good enough job in putting his own spin on the genre, planting the set-up in the old-school style of Hollywood musicals and then taking the story in a direction I don’t want to spoil but rings true how La La Land really is. That said, I can’t help but state although I love every single one of those unsubtle nods to films like The Red Balloon and The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, sometimes they’re just too much and too obvious. They don’t necessarily bring the film down but rather take you out from your immersion in the storytelling.
Up until last year, let’s face it, musicals were dead. First came Sing Street and now with La La Land we’re hopefully witnessing a revival of the gentle and riveting musical direction of people like Jacques Demy come back into the forefront of cinema thanks to the genius of Damien Chazelle. His direction is immaculate, a beautiful combination of perfection built on perfection that he meticulously builds through colorful cinematography, the integration of a beautifully melodic tunes to accompany the film, kinetic direction of the musical scenes in the film, gorgeous art direction, and an incredible direction of acting as witnessed from the protagonists’ remarkable performances. Both Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone are amazing in these, bringing a tangible chemistry to the relationship, submitting themselves to the musical elements of the film and simply rocking it out as the great actors they are. If I had to pick one over the other, I’d have to agree with everybody else and say Emma Stone steals the film with her multi-faceted portrayal of Mia Dolan. La La Land isn’t just a love letter to the musicals of old, it’s an ode to L.A. and the dreamers that reside there, La La Land, I LOVE YOU!