“La La Land”
During a pivotal scene in La La Land, the lead vocalist of the New Wave jazz band “The Messengers” tells jazz pianist, Sebastian, “Jazz is dying. There needs to be a change, and how are you going to be a revolutionary if you’re such a traditionalist?” La La Land is a middle-finger to all individuals who subscribe to that mindset. It is a love letter to classic Hollywood and a throwback to the days of good old fashioned escapist entertainment. An ode to a time when Gene Kelly was swinging from light posts in the rain, James Dean was rebelling, and Marlon Brando was outside the window screaming “ Hey Stella!” They really don’t make movies like this anymore.
La La Land stars Emma Stone as Mia, an aspiring actress trying to make it in the competitive world of Hollywood. During the hours she is not slaving at a coffee shop twenty-feet from stardom on the Warner Brothers lot, she is dashing from audition to audition, performing in front of studio executives who care more about getting their coffee cup refilled than the person auditioning. She feels wasted, wandering through the L.A. nightlife with her roommates trying to find “that someone in the crowd.” However, after she meets handsome pianist Sebastian who gives her the confidence to write her own play, she embarks on a quest to become the “next big thing.”
La La Land also stars Ryan Gosling as Sebastian, a pianist who aspires to open his own jazz joint in Las Angeles. Working on tips in a restaurant where he is limited to solely Christmas tunes, Sebastian rebels and is fired for improvising a bit too much while tickling the ivories. He joins an a-ha cover band to barely pay the bills his crummy apartment accumulates, but it is when he meets aspiring actress Mia that he finally gains the courage to begin his quest to resurrect the art of jazz.
At its core, it is a simple story of boy meets girl. A love story about two people experiencing all of the spiraling highs and crushing lows of following one’s dreams, and how that love and those dreams don’t always mesh. The two stars’ chemistry, this being their third time working together, is existential. Gosling and Stone play their parts with poetic care and crushing agony. They represent the romantic in all of us; their thinking so wishful and their hearts so vulnerable and bare.
Damien Chazelle offers another beautiful feat of both writing and directing. After the spiraling success of his sophomore effort Whiplash, which I consider to be the greatest film of the decade thus far, there was a lot of pressure on him to land yet another hit. A weaker director would have taken a much easier route; the easier route being anything other than a musical, but Chazelle is not just any director, and he demonstrates that with La La Land.
Against all odds, Chazelle offers one of the most delightful experiences in modern Hollywood. As was Whiplash, La La Land is a film full of passion, love and anger. It is a critical examination of the current ultra-competitive, cash-obsessed state of show business, but it also depicts the beauty of it all. It offers a similar, yet decidedly more optimistic, message as 2014’s Birdman, a film that deconstructed the modern perception of success in show business through the lens of an old, one-hit-wonder actor falling out of relevance. Politics aside, La La Land is a colorful whirlwind of dreamy, nostalgic beauty. Choreographed beautifully with often single take song and dance numbers, it is a treat for the eyes as well as one for the mind.
The musical genre used to be the staple of Hollywood, but has fallen from grace with the introduction of the modern blockbuster as the pinnacle of escapist entertainment. If anything, La La Land will begin a new resurgence of cinematic musicals in Hollywood, God knows we need it now. I can’t speak necessarily for those in other countries, but we are at a stage within the United States where the populace has never been more divided. It is nice to be able to sit in a theater and yearn for a few hours. We may not deserve it, but we need it, without a doubt.
4 out of 5