I can see why the film industry is going ga-ga over “La La Land,” the latest film from “Whiplash” prodigy director Damien Chazelle. The film is full of aspiration and ambition, but it’s also loaded with non-inclusive Hollywood insider and industry jokes. It’s not nearly as great as the Hollywood elite types have lead you to believe, it’s just that they enjoy having their butts kissed when awards season rolls around. I’m not saying this is a turkey because it’s not: it’s just not one of those exceptional movies that will change your life. Folks who work in the industry or those who live (or spend a lot of time in) Los Angeles will still find much to delight in.
The film tells the story of struggling actress Mia (Emma Stone) and determined jazz pianist Sebastian (Ryan Gosling). The pair have a requisite meet-cute and soon fall in love. The film takes us on a whirlwind song-and-dance filled journey of their romance. The film plays homage to the classic, iconic studio musical movies of the 40s and 50s and is brimming with peppy musical interludes and energetically choreographed dance numbers. The original songs range the gamut from iconically great, like “Audition (The Fools Who Dream,” to forgettably mediocre, like “Another Day of Sun.” But there’s so much sweet nostalgia on display that it’s hard not to find yourself instantly enchanted.
The fact that Gosling and Stone aren’t great singers (or great dancers) just makes it all the more charming. The two leads seem all the more honest and authentic because they aren’t the most proficient dancers or singers; their flaws only add to the credibility and realism of the story. The novelty of this whimsical experiment does wear off a bit more quickly than I’d like, but the irresistible performances and abundant chemistry between the leads will surely please any romantic.
The film is confidently directed by Chazelle (the showy, incredibly ambitious opening musical number is a real stunner in its technical proficiency and visual choreography; I still can’t stop thinking about how I watched it in complete awe with my jaw dropped). The bright, contrasting costumes in primary colors create an overall dreamlike quality, with some scenes cleverly looking like they are part of a colorized black and white film.
Pursuing your dreams isn’t easy, and the path is often filled with unexpected (and unwelcome) bumps and turns. “La La Land” is well-versed in artistically exploring the joy and pain of following your heart and your steadfast ambition. It accurately conveys the pain of a bittersweet failure with the contrasting elation of finding your success, as well as the reality and regret of what could have been. Dreamers never stop dreaming, and Chazelle does a great job blurring the line between reality and fantasy as a coping mechanism for his characters’ real-world failures. There are some gorgeously realized fantasy scenes where our minds are allowed to run as wild and free as Mia and Sebastian’s daydreams.
This is a film that’s filled with glorious movie magic and blended with a modern hipster vibe. It’s an unabashedly romantic ode to the City of Angels, and its imperfections make it all the more enjoyable. Here’s to the dreamers, lovers of music and movies, and fondness for a good old fashioned romance.