10 out of 10
Ryan Gosling as Sebastian Wilder
Directed by Damien Chazelle
La La Land Review:
“Here’s to the ones who dream
Foolish as they may seem
Here’s to the hearts that ache
Here’s to the mess we make”
We need musicals again. We need flights-of-fancy, as characters break into song, and the façade of reality cracks and lets the color and the light shine through. This mundane world needs the beauty of the soaring heart and the blistering heat of a soul in passion. Of all the cinematic genres, only the musical can truly provide that sweet ache of a hope cradled like a hand to a candle flame, the wonder of stepping out the door into Oz. For those who dismiss the musical genre, all I can say to them is that they haven’t seen the one that ignited their heart’s inferno. Musicals, more than any other genre truly live to the potential of that cinematic door. The best ones are a flight straight into our dreams.
La La Land is one of the best ones. Director Damian Chazelle wants so much for us to experience the power of music and romance, and I get the idea that if Chazelle could be in every theater opening day and watch audiences all over the world be transported into his film, he’d do it in a heartbeat. It’s that kind of movie – La La Land makes no apologies for its emotion and cinematic splendor, and one of the aspects I loved about La La Land the most is that it’s a singularly cinematic experience. So many musicals, recently, have directly translated the stage experience to the screen, and whole that’s all well and good, movies are different than plays. Cinema has no stage except in our hearts and minds, and no limits except the camera and our imaginations. I’m not disparaging stage musicals when I say that sometimes magic comes when there are no limitations, and La La Land, as an original film musical, wants to bring back the glory of films like Singin’ in the Rain, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, or the works of Busby Berkeley – pieces of magic that the stage can’t easily replicate.
La La Land’s story is sparse, but that is the point – ostensibly, it’s about Mia (Emma Stone) a struggling actress in Los Angeles, as she falls in love with Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), a struggling jazz musician trying to get enough scratch to open his own jazz club. But it’s also about the sweeping joy of new love, and the magic that happens between two people when that love overpowers them. It’s about the magic of cinema, the transporting nature of art to bring color and sparkle to a drab, mundane world. It’s about how music encapsulates and defines our lives, and how we choose the soundtrack that we live to. It’s about how living a life in pursuit of art costs, even as it rewards.
In the beginning, the music is all encompassing, full of power and joy. As Mia and Seb’s relationship deepens, so does the movie, as new love grows into a mature understanding, and a knowledge that our dreams can directly conflict with our realities, and that sometimes it isn’t possible to walk that path without leaving something behind. Chazelle directs La La Land like he isn’t holding back – many shots feel directly reverential to classic cinema of old, and not just musicals. The colors of La La Land are visual candy, and there is always a shot that astonishes and sets a grand tone. The cinematography of Linus Sandgren is sumptuous, a visual feast. There’s a poetry to the camera alongside the wonderful choreography and music.
La La Land is full of optimism and joy, and even when circumstances change for Mia and Seb, that optimism and joy stay with you. The songs, by Justin Hurwitz, Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, are glorious, and both Gosling and Stone perform them admirably. They put their characters into each number – Seb’s never-ending hopefulness, and Mia’s deep yearning. The dance sequences float off the screen, and the elegant choreography by Mandy Moore sweeps the audience away right along with the characters. When a movie musical puts all its powers into a number, like the opening “Another Day of Sun,” it can transport us like no other movie can quite manage. For some, the earnestness and fantasy can be difficult to overcome, and some simply aren’t willing to risk the raw emotion on display. But for me, these are the kinds of film that make me feel the most alive.
We all watch movies for different reasons. For escape, to experience a life that we haven’t experienced before, to learn and be enlightened. To laugh, or cry, or cheer for our heroes and hiss at our villains. Movies, and movie theaters, may be the last real communal experience. We all have different philosophies, different dogmas and beliefs, but in the movies, we are sharing in catharsis, no matter our backgrounds and creeds. La La Land is the kind of movie that I want to share with everyone. I want to see La La Land many times, and I want to watch it with an audience unprepared for the emotions on display. If there’s anything that can bring us together in this divisive, fractured world, it’s the majesty of cinema. La La Land is made of gold, stardust, and hope, and you get to take all that with you when you go home. It’s a miracle of a movie, wrapped in a bow and left under the Christmas tree. These days, a movie like La La Land is a gift, and I hope you all experience the same power I did. Raise a glass to the dream dealers, the tap-dancing salesmen of the flickering shadows, these merchants of magic.