Ear-worms, as far the eye can see…or as far as the ear can hear- whatever, shut-up.
Generally speaking, I wouldn’t have called myself a fan of musicals. I’ve seen my share of them, and I’ve enjoyed them well enough, but they’re not the kind of thing I go out of my way for. So why do exactly that for La La Land? Well, I’m not really sure, I guess you could just call it a good feeling…the insane amounts of critical acclaim getting heaped on La La Land probably helped too. Anyway, the point of all that was sometimes when you get a feeling, follow it. And after seeing La La Land, I’m very glad I did.
Set in modern day Los Angeles, La La Land follows two hopeless dreamers who somehow keep bumping into each other: Mia Dolan (Emma Stone), an aspiring actress, and Sebastian Wilder (Ryan Gosling), a down-on-his-luck jazz pianist. It doesn’t take long for the two to fall in together, and take each other on a journey of following their dreams in a land that doesn’t always have the opportunity to do so.
From the film’s first fantastically charming musical number, I had been won over. La La Land is a throwback to musicals of the truly classic variety: bright, vibrant, bombastic, and shamelessly embracing of the art of grand performance. Every second of La La Land seeps with that irresistibly charming “let’s put on a show” Busby Berkley mentality that simply too earnest to dislike. It also helps that all of La La Land’s musical numbers and sequences are very well executed: sumptuous visuals and cinematography combine with appealing and very slick choreography to give us one of the most visually striking films of the year. Being a musical, music is fairly important, and the score of La La Land truly delivers, a strong mix of classic jazz and swing that feels like it stepped straight out of an old-school musical. What really defines La La Land’s striking style is its wonderful intermingling of the nostalgic and the modern: it’s a carefully crafted clash of truly classic editing techniques and shot composition with the sharp disruption of modernity that helps make La La Lands core themes and ideas so resonant.
And in term of its themes and ideas, those aspects of La La Land are wonderfully realised: it weaves a tale that is both at times incredibly uplifting, to devastatingly sad, to bittersweet in that best way of narrative satisfaction. At its heart, La La Land is as much a film about throwing caution to the wind and following your dreams as it is about the harsh realities of life and the realization that dreaming of a world that no longer exists won’t allow you to live in it. Mia and Seb are of course perfect avatars of this conflict of chasing a dream versus facing reality. Their relationship charts a course, which is an often sublime balancing of drama, comedy, and tragedy that reels you in and doesn’t let go. At La La Land’s heart is this wonderfully strange amalgam of indomitable will and idealism tempered by the natures life and an oft-inescapable truism: that dreams don’t always come true the way might expect them too. It’s that tinge of the melancholy that ensures that La La Land doesn’t disappear into an obnoxiously saccharine cloud of oversimplified optimism and nostalgic idealizing.
And speaking of the lead characters, Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling proved themselves a formidable pairing on screen. Given how focused La La Land is on their relationship, the weight of the entire film rested on Stone’s and Gosling’s shoulders, and they had no trouble shouldering the burden. Both their performances were laden with fantastic chemistry, humor, and irresistible charm. Stone and Gosling’s performances in their musical numbers proved strong, though Gosling was not quite a good as singer as Stone proved to be. Their dance choreography made it quite clear that they’re not dancers, being fairly simple and stripped down compared to the film’s other numbers. That said, I don’t know if this bothered me all that much: the fact that those scenes between just Gosling and Stone were so small and simple compared to the other grand spectacles added something to the purity and simplicity of their relationship that in inflated sense of bombast would have harmed.
There’s really not a great many things I can say about La La Land that I found bothersome, but there were some minor issues with the film’s pacing. In terms of propulsion La La Land was fine, but there’s about a third of the movie in its middle where it seems to simply dispense with being a musical for a while. While there were some small musical interludes, for the most part there were no musical numbers at all, which felt jarring given that they were well balanced out between talking and musical in the first third and also in the last third of the movie. And though it goes to great pains to make clear what kind of “reality” it deals in, some of La La Lands more surrealistic moments and sequences don’t quite their mark, feeling a little too exaggerated for its more grounded elements. But overall, these are pretty minor quibbles.
La La Land is a truly grand experience of a film of soaring highs with a perfectly bittersweet and melancholic downwind. It’s a wonderfully realised ode to Hollywood’s golden era of bombastic and spectacularly showy musicals weighted with the sense of the realities of modern day Hollywood. Throw on top of that two tremendously talented leads with endless charm and chemistry, and you have one of the best movies of the year. In case it wasn’t already obvious, this one comes highly recommended from me.