People love what other people are passionate about
La La Land is directed by Damien Chazelle and stars Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, John Legend, and RoseMarie DeWitt. It received fourteen Academy Award nominations and won six: Best Director, Best Actress, Best Cinematography, Best Original Score, Best Original Song, and Best Production Design.
I was almost dead convinced that by the year 2016, mainstream American movie goers had completely fallen out of favor with live action musical movies, those type of movies no longer being in their tastes. Sure, there was the 2012 Les Miserables that brought in over $400 million at the box office, but a once in a blue moon success isn't grounds to claim that musicals are back on top. Then came Damien Chazelle's La La Land, a musical that took in over $400 million at the box office worldwide and tied the record for most Oscar nominations. It's also a musical that utterly smashed my cynicism about the relationship between movie musicals and the people of the 21st century. And if my cynicism wasn't in the fetal position by 2017, then The Greatest Showman shot it dead by turning out to be another musical box office hit.
At its core, La La Land is a tribute to all those older, classic musicals, mostly the ones from the 50's. You know, those musicals with colorful and flashy production designs and filled to the brim with happy songs and highly kinetic dance sequences. It takes the elements of those musicals and puts them to use in a more modern-day setting, evident by the fact that characters carry cellphones, as well as wearing clothing and talking the way any normal person would in the year 2016. And yet, it looks like a movie that could very well have been made in the 1950's, and I bet had it actually been made during the 1950's, hardly anything fundamental about the film would seem the least bit different.
Taking place in Los Angeles, La La Land depicts the story of Mia (Emma Stone) and Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), two young folks who are attempting to make a living in LA. Mia is a struggling actress in hopes of jump-starting a film career. Sebastian is a jazz pianist who gets fired from his restaurant job. The two run into each other at a party and quickly develop a bond. Their relationship blossoms as the two visit a jazz club, go see screenings of older movies such as Rebel Without A Cause together at a local theater, and share their life passions with one another. Mia and Sebastian's relationship is threatened, however, when Sebastian accepts an offer to join the band of one of his former classmates, Keith (John Legend), and the band plays a style of music that Mia knows isn't the type of music that Sebastian wants to play.
- One of the most lovable things about La La Land is how it treats itself like an anti-rom com, in the same vein of something like 500 Days of Summer or Annie Hall. This is not due to the man having a foolish belief about what he hopes to achieve with the woman he loves, nor the other way around. Mia and Sebastian have different goals, and while they may have quite a bit in common, particularly the fact that both are trying to find a way to make it in the crazy city that is Los Angeles, they come to understand that they can make no guarantees of their future. Mia has dreams of becoming an aspiring film actress, while Sebastian desires to open up his own jazz club. Neither of them know if they can maintain a healthy relationship and keep up with their lifelong dreams. I find this to be a wonderful example of how things are in real life relationships, because people change over time and can have difficulty keeping their work life and romantic life from interfering, and therefore, there is absolutely no certainty that two lovers will live happily ever after. I'm aware that sounds like a hefty spoiler, but the fact that Mia and Sebastian's romance is far from what you'd find in a fairy tale, especially because their romance is set within a musical, it must be discussed.
- There should be no denying the wonderful chemistry that exists between Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, the two talking, singing, and dancing with a type of natural enthusiasm that is not the least bit artificial. La La Land would actually be the third time in which Gosling and Stone worked together, the two previously working together on Crazy, Stupid, Love and Gangster Squad. I've heard stories that the two have developed a strong friendship over the years, so it should come as no surprise that they aren't at all awkward together. They engage in conversations the way any two people who have known each other for a long time would, and their musical numbers are all the better because of how well the two work together. It's a matter of fit that's hard to put in words: you just see it and believe it to be true.
- That award for Best Production Design is no accident. La La Land is a visual delight that succeeds in being as colorful and expressive as it wants to be. The film's dream sequences are where the production design truly flourishes, with nearly everyone wearing brightly colored outfits to go alongside eye-candy backgrounds. The dream scenes are very much like the ballet sequence from An American in Paris, which was also an explosion of bright colors and exquisite costumes.
- Ah, but while La La Land excels at being visually marvelous, it does have a habit of getting just a little too carried away when it takes its characters off to the dreamy, la la land, such as when Mia and Sebastian go and share a romantic dance at the Griffith Observatory and the two are floating in mid-air while dancing. Chazelle gives us a little too much of a good thing by prolonging the la la land sequences, which sort of spoils the film's sweetness and the anti-rom com parts of Mia and Sebastian's relationship. The result is the film being slightly too long, and I fondly remember sitting in the theater the first time I saw the film, waving my arm trying to get to the end credits, because by the time the movie gets to its final dream scene, it's already told all of its story, but it wants to take one last opportunity to show off the production design just a tad bit more.
Another good thing is that La La Land avoids treating itself like a pure tribute movie, one in which the filmmakers are clearly just tipping their hats to some older group of works without really trying to develop a cohesive and memorable story on their own. La La Land makes its story thrive with great chemistry between Gosling and Stone, a production design too difficult to ignore, and a bittersweet approach to its romance that is especially commendable because of how realistic it is. Lots of young folks move to Los Angeles in hopes of making it big somehow. Some make it. Others don't. But no matter how things may appear, La La Land will reassure to you that, with enough passion, even the most foolish dreams are attainable.
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