“LA LA LAND” By Damien Chazelle Reviewed
I am certainly not a fan of musicals, but every year I end up seeing one around the holidays. This year, Damien Chazelle’s ‘La La Land’ is certainly the talk of the town, first because Oscars and all sorts of Awards are written all over it, then because it is a vibrant and colorful homage to the city where I live, sunny Los Angeles. And if you talk about Los Angeles, you have to talk about cinema, music, and of course hope and dreams…. This is ultimately what this movie is about, it is a don’t-give-up-your-dream story, even though you may have to make a heartbreaking choice.
The movie is obviously the critics’ darling, it fills all the criteria from start to finish, the bright (techni)colors, the music, the elegant movement of the camera and the dancers, the adorable actors, and the love story, it is an obvious homage to cinema and beloved musicals with Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, and there is a clever vintage quality to it – they have picked the LA top movie-legend locations, like the Griffith Park observatory, immortalized during the famous scene of ‘Rebel Without a Cause’. Lastly, the two main characters played by Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling have real, even magical chemistry together, and you care for them as soon as their eyes meet.
Sure, musical numbers in movies have always looked a bit odd and contrived to me… why do people start suddenly singing and dancing to express their feeling or answer a simple question? ‘La La Land’ even starts with one of these numbers, people are stuck in a traffic jam on a LA freeway, get out of their cars to sing and dance during a very colorful, dynamic and fantastic movie opening. Aren’t moments like these ones a bit self-indulgent? If you think so, the movie is not for you because a scene like this one gives to people exactly what they want, like the entire movie: plenty of nostalgia for Hollywood’s golden ages intertwined with a charming romantic story.
If movies should be a pleasure for the eyes and the ears, ‘La La Land’ succeeds beyond expectation at any level, every scene is a delight and the flawless cinematography transpires old-school movies and classics like ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ ‘ An American in Paris’, or even ‘The Umbrellas of Cherbourg’. It is a movie made to bring you back to the good old times of cinema, when going to the theater was the event of the week, of the month, and the beautiful dream effect of certain scenes is sure to bring tears in many eyes. For this reason, it is the anti-millennial movie, made for the wide screen and certainly not formatted for the shrinking screen of the iPad.
It starts like a fairy tale, aspiring actress Mia (Emma Stone) is the wide-eyed princess who meets Sebastian, a talented jazz musician (Ryan Gosling), and after an awkward start – she hates jazz, he bumps into her but ignores her – we know these two are made for each other.
However, both characters have personal dreams, she wants to be an actress, he wants to open a traditional jazz club, but he almost gives up his dream when he signs for a job in a band playing a modernized version of jazz, a sort of commercial pop soul, fronted by Keith, played by a realistic John Legend.
In a movie filled with nostalgia at each scene, there is nevertheless this constant idea that things are changing for the worst if you are a nostalgic. A romantic outdoor dancing scene between Mia and Sebastian is interrupted by an iPhone ringing, a burgeoning kiss in the theater has to stop because the projector is burning a copy of ‘Rebel Without a Cause’, and of course John Legend/Keith asks Sebastian why he has to stay so traditional, since nobody is listening to traditional jazz anymore…
Just as Hollywood was transitioning to talking movies in ‘Singin’ in the Rain’, we are at a turning point of history, entertainment is all about digitalization and fast-food commercialization of movies and music. However, the film shows a constant reluctance to embrace modernity, Sebastian drives a vintage old car, listens to old jazz vinyl, and talks about the music he loves (Miles Davis, John Coltrane and Charlie Parker) with a contagious passion – unlike people of his age, he doesn’t seem to even know about Spotify or YouTube – while Mia’s dresses look like colorful versions of Marilyn’s as they walk in the most art-deco neighborhoods of LA,… they are living in a technicolor fantasy.
‘La La Land’ will surely be considered as the ultimate date movie, it’s a romantic comedy, sprinkled with musical numbers, dream sequences and songs written by Justin Hurwitz, Benj Pasek and Justin Paul. It has a huge heart attached to the past as it often looks like an updated version of a Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s classic, but it makes a few steps in the present in the sense that, despite all this glamour, the characters will ultimately make a selfish decision in two parallel universes and in a very modern millennial manner this time. Ryan Gosling may not be a dancer of Gene Kelly caliber, but he is loveable and charming and he has the presence of a real movie star, so does Emma Stone. However, without revealing too much, the movie doesn’t have the cheesy ending you would have expected from an old Hollywood movie, and for this, ‘La La Land’ wins many points.