MPAA Rating: PG-13/ Genre: Romantic Musical Comedy-Drama/ Stars: Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, John Legend, Jessica Rothe, Rosemarie DeWitt, J.K. Simmons, Finn Wittrock, Tom Everett Scott/ Runtime: 128 minutes
If there was ever a type of movie that, when done right, will always make me less cynical than I usually am it would have to be musicals. I say this because when done right musicals are what taught me that in this world there really truly are moments in all of our lives where emotion is so powerful that it can’t be put into mere words. Instead it must be sung and along with that are moments where love is so overwhelming that you can’t help, but just move your feet to the rhythm coming from within your heart and soul. So coming from a family that loves classic films, I remember when I was younger always being in awe of such fine gentlemen as Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire and just sitting there watching and thinking that they were as cool as anyone else in movie history. Indeed I also found myself, and still do to this day, admiring the characters in musicals as not only do they understand love differently than those in traditional films, but they were also able to, by blending dancing, singing and mere dialogue together, create something greater, something purer, and indeed something closer to true romance than anything we as audiences could ever have imagined.
Yet while we have had musicals since the era of Rogers & Astaire I really truly feel that very few of those have tried to recapture that sense of fluid, magical thinking in which characters communicate with their bodies as much, maybe even more, than they do with their voices. This of course brings us to Damien Chazelle’s newest film “La La Land” and one of the many remarkable things about this film honestly and really truly is how much energy and time it devotes to movement and music, not just lyrics. Indeed while most modern movie musicals, so often based on Broadway shows, have focused heavily on songs that further the plot, Chazelle’s vision goes to show us that choreography does matter and a simple piano refrain really truly can have more power than a lyric. It is due to this that I can safely say that upon seeing it La La Land really truly is a beautiful film about love, dreams, how the two impact each other, and how sometimes all it takes is a partner to help make your wildest dreams come true in ways we could never imagine.
Now the film opens with a huge line-up of cars stuck in that notoriously infamous and awful phenomenon that is L.A. traffic when all of a sudden the drivers decide to break into a song called “Another Day of Sun”, a bit about how each day brings new hope for these young wannabe artists, and begin jumping out of the cars and dancing on the freeway, something I would most certainly not advise especially in LA. It is also in this moment that Chazelle’s direction and the dance choreography just feels, quite refreshingly I might add, different as we see that here, and throughout the film, Chazelle works in long, unbroken takes so that not only can you see the dance moves, but you also can see the entire body of the dancer performing them. So after our Greek chorus-like introduction to a city of dreamers that we honestly won’t ever see again for the rest of the film, we finally meet the two sun-gazers that will be our main characters: jazz pianist trying to keep jazz alive on his own two shoulders Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) and struggling actress/ barista on the side Mia (Emma Stone). Of course like any musical worth its salt, the two have a few false starts, right from the moment they first interact on the highways of LA right down to where they playfully mock each other’s flaws in one of their first scenes. Of course we all know where this is headed and Gosling & Stone possess the necessary chemistry to genuinely make us as an audience want them to get together and it isn’t long before they do, but soon they will find their relationship put to the ultimate test when the dreams that they both have longed so hard to achieve threaten to be the very thing to tear them and all of their happiness apart…..
Now the first major centerpiece scene is a long walk and talk between Sebastian and Mia as the sun is setting over the Hollywood Hills and it is also where they, as well as we in the audience, start to see the similarities in each other. This is also where we as audience members get to see these characters finally open up to one another as we learn that Mia is completely fed up with going to worthless auditions where, no matter how good she does, the producer never even will look up from their phone and give her the chance to shine that she so clearly deserves and Sebastian is holding on to an ideal version of jazz for as long as he has breath in his body and wants to open his own club instead of selling out and playing greatest hits for tourists. Thus we begin to see a clear attraction start to emerge and even as they sing about how they would not really be great as a couple, and how this absolutely gorgeous night is wasted because they’re not with who they truly want to be with their bodies tell another story. This is because although Stone and Gosling aren’t natural singers or dancers, they bring so much character and commitment to every movement that it doesn’t matter because they’re so fluid and mesmerizing that we can’t help but be entranced as well as we as an audience watch them fall in love through this absolutely phenomenal dance number.
Of course, I feel I should also add that it most definitely does not hurt this film in the slightest that Gosling and Stone have the kind of star power that made so many of those classic era musicals as memorable today as they were when they first came out. Indeed this is because Gosling is not only smooth, and charismatic with a little snark thrown in for good measure, but Stone is able to match him perfectly by being equally as clever and beautiful, and, of course, when it comes down to it they’re both absolutely more than capable when the film demands greater depth from the both of them. Thus by the end of the movie you realize we are watching 2 characters so richly detailed that the movie would work even without the music and Gosling and Stone just nail these characters through and indeed they really truly have never been better than they are in this movie.
Now in addition to all of that brilliance “La La Land” also exists as a very conscious yet very respectful at the same time ode to the allure of classic Hollywood as we see in such examples as a scene where the pair goes to see “Rebel Without a Cause” (a scene which also I might add culminates in one of the most magical film moments in years) as well as the fact that films like “Casablanca” and “Bringing Up Baby” are name-dropped. Yet while we as audience members have seen dozens of films over the years try to capture that very distinct movie land allure and Hollywood vibe, albeit more often than not it’s accompanied by the cynical viewpoint that the town and the culture if you’re not careful will chew you up and spit you back out again. Thus props must be given to Chazelle’s take on all of this for it really is absolutely unique and not only does he nail it amazingly well but in the process pays respectful homage to musicals like “Singin’ in the Rain” without every directly insultingly copying them. He also gives us a film which, without going into any spoilers, has a final 10 minutes that really truly are some of the most potently emotional and powerful 10 minutes you will see in a movie from 2017 hands down.
All in all its frighteningly easier than you think to let the world get you down, believe me when I say that I know that better than I have been willing to admit until here recently. Along with that, it’s equally as easy to cynically think that not only do dreams not come true and nor will they ever, but that true love can only exist in the movies. Thankfully “La La Land” does an absolutely amazing job of reminding us not only that those notions are completely and totally incorrect now and forever more, but that movies if made right can still be magical and also if we as an audience let them be movies can still provide a very distinct, very loud, and very incredibly close channel for us as people to see the magic that does exist in the world around us. Indeed it’s not so much another day in the sun, as it is sung in that brilliant opening, but the dreams of the night that, upon us waking up, we as human beings try our very best to fulfill using all of our hearts, our strength, and our spirit to accomplish which keep us dancing. Yet should we as people ever find that we have lost the beat within our hearts sometimes all it takes is an incredible partner to get us back on track to accomplishing our nothing short of extraordinary dreams. On a scale of 1-5 I give La La Land a solid 4.5 out of 5.