LA LA LAND
Directed by Damien Chazelle
Starring Emma Stone, Ryan Gosling
The Hollywood of yesteryear, full of legends and legendary performances directed by cinematic titans, gets a modern update in Damien Chazelle's romantic musical La La Land. On one hand the film serves as a heartfelt love letter to the city of Los Angeles, full of dreamers and dreams, both crushed and fulfilled. On the other hand, the film is a testament to clever and thrilling filmmaking, piecing together indelible performances and beautiful visuals. To say it's a masterpiece may seem ill-fitting because it's so new, but after the test of time, there's no doubt La La Land will be a film we'll all remember.
Chazelle wrote and directed the film which follows Mia (Emma Stone), an aspiring actress mastering the ups and downs of auditioning and disappointment, and Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), a jazz musician whose dreams overshadow his own responsibilities. The two suffer from a sort-of meet-cute situation, after ostensibly running into one another at random events. Though the initial attraction is more attune to Mia, the open-minded idealist that she is. Stuck in his own mind and frustrations with his current state, it takes a beat before Sebastian realizes his attraction to Mia is worth venturing.
The two dance through a supportive relationship, celebrating the highs in each other's life, and offering advice and hope through the lows. When things take off for Sebastian, not without the sacrifice of his true dreams, Mia's persistence and attention to making their individual dreams work serves as the catalyst for the film's and relationship's ultimate conflict.
The pull and tug of the romance plays out as the perfect subject for Chazelle's vision, a modern tale of love lost and dreams had with all of the sentiment and energy of Hollywood's Golden Era. Imagine Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, but replace studio sets with the Hollywood Hills. Tap dancing still plays a role. The crowds of random Angelinos pipe in, knowing the words and choreographed moves, at times. An opening number in the middle of traffic of an LA freeway is the most California thing I've seen in a long time.
It's this energy that carries the film, even through its slower middle act. And, it's the chemistry between stars Stone and Gosling that sells each and every moment. Stone, especially, displays the wild-eyed excitement of Midwesterner who's moved to LA to find fame and a place to fill her artful desires (and still pay the bills) with such confidence that it seems belittling to say it's charming. It's actually so much more. And, Gosling offers a similar trope we've seen before, but it's almost as if his past leading man duties were just preparing him for this.
Their passion for their work and for each other is frantic and filled with wonder. Stone's Mia can't help but to look at Sebastian with joy and surprise. When he takes her to the Griffith Observatory, the magic in their dance, leading up to their first kiss, plays as a beautiful piece of cinema, but also as a metaphor for free-falling into love with someone, their mysteries and all.
La La Land is just as much fun as it is meaningful. As the tagline and the lyric to one of the film's strongest songs reads, "Here's to the fools who dream," Chazelle's picture is one of the solitude and desire that comes with lofty dreams. Dreams of a bygone era and dreams for what could be. Mia and Sebastian, artists in their own rite, traverse through the adventure of love, sparking the same feelings anyone who's every dreamed have undoubtedly felt.
The film closes with a rousing musical number that immediately calls back to classic musical films like The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, Singin' in the Rain and An American in Paris (and, again, serves as a testament to Chazelle's talent as a genius storyteller). As classics, they've changed the course of filmmaking. As a new entry in a genre that hasn't seen enough cinematic love for years, La La Land is the perfect introduction to a new phase in cinema's history. Hopefully we're on the cusp of a new Golden Era. One can only dream...
Runtime: 128 minutes