La La Land review by Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
I came out of La La Land with the biggest of smiles for a musical I never expected to win me over so easily. I knew Damien Chazelle was a great director with a penchant for jazz, but I didn’t expect him to deliver such a high-energy musical. I knew Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone were great talents, but I never expected them to have such charm and dance moves. I knew that composer Justin Hurwitz could compose some great music as he did in Chazelle’s Whiplash, but not this good. You think you’ve seen it all and can predict it all, only for something like La La Land to come along that blows everything else out of the water.
Right from the first scene, Chazelle makes his musical world known as one where anything can happen. A traffic jam soon turns into a song and dance number where all the drivers can break out into song and become marvelous dancers. Open up the back of a truck and you can find a band just waiting to chime in with the chorus. This opening scene doesn’t feature the key characters, but establishes the tone well. We then meet our two leads: the barista struggling to be an actor Mia (Emma Stone) and the jazz musician hoping to land his own club, Sebastian (Ryan Gosling). They meet on the highway, but don’t connect until later when Mia overhears him playing the piano. Their romance soon blossoms as they both begin to take interest in their passions, sharing their love for their crafts as much as they have for each other.
In classic musical fashion, the relationship of Mia and Sebastian develops over song and dance numbers. Mia just happens to carry tap shoes on her way to the car, realizing a dance could break out at any moment. The two of them later sneak into a planetarium where they begin to float and dance among the stars. There is a whimsical energy to their relationship as they fancy each other and admire each other’s passion. Mia wants to put on a one-man show while Sebastian continues to push for his club. But as time goes on and bills stack up, the two begin making sacrifices they believe may not be worth it. Their dreams of both being successful and a couple may not come true.
There’s a solid balance of whimsical musical numbers and a relatable relationship to compose a picture that is as thoughtful as it is dazzling. For every moment where Gosling and Stone deliver a toe-tapping number, there’s another where her plight is believable. She wants to be an actor, but there are too many other girls with similar talent. She wants to stage a one-man show, but barely anyone shows up. At the same time, Gosling faces the big challenge of deciding to sell out for Stone or keep fighting for his dream. Their frustrations to do the right thing reach a boiling point in a great moment of dramatic tension as they feud over dinner with a record player finishing its play.
The music is beyond enjoyable. Weeks after the screening and I still have Another Day of Sun etched into my mind, its melody a mere whistle away. Gosling’s somber solo City of Stars is a wonder little song to mumble when on your own or finding yourself quietly anxious for something on the horizon. Even the lyricaly devoid musical numbers are just as earworm worthy for the powerful instrumentals by Hurwitz.
La La Land pays tribute to not only old Hollywood musicals, but also Hollywood in general. Mia and Sebastian gab about old movies as they walk around a studio, pointing out where classic movies were filmed and strolling around sets currently filming. The two have a date at an art-house theater playing Rebel Without a Cause and are so inspired by the shot of a historic planetarium that they later seek it out and venture inside after hours. The song and dance number between Gosling and Stone at dusk echoes the tone of a Fred Astaire or Gene Kelly musical. True, neither Gosling nor Stone have the flawless moves of such Hollywood legends, but they do have the same amount of energy and charisma.
There’s a lot to love about La La Land, but what won me over most was its theme about dreams. Stone has a solo number for an audition in which her lyrics dedicate towards the dreamers, those that succeed and those that fail. What an amazing inspiration to leave the theater with. I’ve never been a big fan of musicals, but La La Land has so much energy, charisma, visual dazzle and memorable music that it was impossible to resist such a joyful spectacle. Call me gaga for La La if you must.