Review – LA LA LAND (Damien Chazelle, 2016, USA)

LA LA LAND || 2016, USA || Musical || Directed by – Damien Chazelle / Produced by – Fred Berger, Gary Gilbert, Jordan Horowitz, Marc Platt /  Written by – Damien Chazelle / Music by – Justin Hurwitz / Cinematography – Linus Sandgren / Edited by – Tom Cross / Starring – Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, John Legend, Rosemarie DeWitt / Running time: 128 mins.

lalalandposterDuring the Golden Age of Hollywood, musicals, more than other genre, represented the supremacy of American cinema and song writing. The genre’s popularity inevitably died down as the medium sought to satisfy a need for a truer representation of the real world. Nowadays, the few musicals that make the theatrical run risk feeling gimmicky and superficial. Such is not the case of La La Land, which in many ways can be seen as updating the nature of the most beloved of classic Hollywood musicals while simultaneously remaining under their artistic and moral influence.

Here, we find Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone fall in love with each other once again: the first, Sebastian, is a dedicated jazz player; the second, Mia, is an aspiring actress dreaming of making it big; the setting, itself a character in the movie, is a contemporary Los Angeles. They meet and initially clash before predictably falling in love. Yet unlike many other Hollywood romances, La La Land does not end with a look shared between its heterosexual leads sharing a romantic kiss in the moonlights, or in a field, or on top of a skyscraper, or other such romantic landscapes. Director and screenwriter Damien Chazelle remains with them and, without outstaying his welcome, observes the characters of his own creation as they gradually grow apart – a separation, much like the flourishing of their romance, seems inevitable.

A key dilemma, ultimately, dealt with in the film is whether or not love and dreams, or aspirations, can exist. It is the examination of the cruelty of those dreams, and how they can threaten the purity of love. And evidence of how Chazelle is able to achieve this so successfully is that he is able to convince his audience that they too had a similarly perfectly tragic romance as that between Sebastian and Mia; this too is the sign of the ideological objective of traditional cinema, in which the spectator is passively involved through a naturalistic process of identification, accomplished by Chazelle.

La La Land irresistibly introduces the diegesis of the world in which anyone at any time can burst into a song during a spectacular traffic jam dance and song number. The song, “Another Day of Sun,” is the first of a fantastic score by composed and orchestrated by Justin Hurwitz, with lyrics by Pasek and Paul – another is the irresistibly melancholic “City of Stars” (though admittedly, the song list as a whole is not very “jazzy”…) It’s hard not to fall for the celebrative nature of the most lavish of musical numbers from the get go. These numbers also appear to be perfectly integrated in the world of the film, and therefore never feel like fillers or out of place additions getting in the way of the plot. Chazelle understands both music and the cinematic tradition, and he showed this in his previous outing Whiplash equally as well.

Stone and Gosling have natural radiance and enjoy great popularity among all demographics of both a female and male gender. Stone is graceful, petite with a broad smile and thin hair that never seems to fall out of place. She doesn’t look like Hollywood royalty, which is why she is perfectly suited for a role that introduces her as just another girl working in a coffee shop with a big dream. Gosling, who learned to tap dance and play piano for this role, is occasionally stiff and straight faced, but this is not enough to break the magic of the spell. When he introduces Stone to jazz, which he is so passionate about, he dramatically tells her that it needs to be protected because “it’s dying.” This is an example of Chazelle’s talent for writing dialogue: it is impassioned but also shows, but totally aware of the fact that if the words were somehow allowed to look at themselves in the mirror, they would laugh at themselves for their shameless self-importance. That lovers, somehow, need to believe in each other’s gibberish in order to really fall in love. Vulnerability is not only to be found in pain, but also in moments of acute confidence; Chazelle understands that, which is another reason why he is able to make a musical in which lovers are able to dance in the moonlight like Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers without feeling like it has absolutely nothing to say to anyone who is not willing to listen. – 5/5


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