LA LA LAND
Writer/Director: Damien Chazelle
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, John Legend, J.K. Simmons, Rosemarie DeWitt, Josh Pence, Finn Wittrock
Sometimes we look to the movies to provide escapism. We want to get away from our everyday life for whatever reason it may be. We can disappear into another world with relatable characters to live out some fantasy for two hours. La La Land will be that movie that sweeps you away from your troubles as you fall in love all over again with Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone. Maybe it’s just the music theater side of me that geeked out over the beginning as we see both characters stuck in the typical Los Angeles traffic. Cars are stopped for miles with no one moving anytime soon. It’s right then and there where all of the passengers get out of their cars for a little song and dance routine. It’s perfectly acceptable in the world of La La Land where everyone busts out at any given moment for a musical number where they can all sing and dance flawlessly. I often have these mental moments where I wish we lived in a musical.
Emma Stone plays Mia, an aspiring actress and professional barista hoping for her big break. She’s having the typical bad day where coffee is spilled on her; she’s late for an audition, and now stuck in traffic. Been there, done that. She has an encounter with Sebastian (Gosling) on the freeway during the opening musical number but doesn’t realize quite yet that she will run into him later on. He is a jazz pianist looking to play in fancier gigs but is stuck playing Christmas carols at a local restaurant. Mia happens to run into him playing there on her awful day. Before she has a chance to introduce herself, he bolts out of there after getting fired. The seasons change and more time passes before Mia runs into him again at a pool party. He’s there playing keyboard for an ‘80s cover band. They finally strike up conversation and begin dating. The rest of La La Land follows a year in the life of these two artists who struggle to find that balance of keeping their relationship healthy while trying to keep their careers afloat.
It’s very easy to get swept up in the whimsical nature of watching Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone fall in love. This is their third film together following Crazy. Stupid. Love (2011) and Gangster Squad (2013). The chemistry is infectious and they make their relationship on screen look so effortless. Mia has that spunk that Emma Stone is great at which makes for playful banter between Gosling’s Sebastian who has a bigger temper than she does. The whole beginning of the film as we watch their relationship grow looks like it’s set in a watercolor painting. The opening musical number “Another Day of Sun” is a rainbow of solid colors. It then progress into sweeping strokes of blues, purples, and oranges that accompany the glow of the moonlight and the picturesque world around them. It’s as if you are transported back to the days of the old MGM musicals with Gene Kelly or Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. It’s a warm juxtaposition for a story that actually takes place in the modern day where cell phones, iPads, and gluten-free pastries are the new norm.
Writer and director Damien Chazelle turned to his Whiplash composer Justin Hurwitz to write new and original music. Like that film, they turn to the music to help tell this story and fit the mood and atmosphere of Mia and Sebastian’s relationship. There is constant underscoring ranging from simple piano and string compositions that float along to edgy jazz riffs. There’s a seamless transition between the two where you may not notice the music changing shape as their relationship begins to grow and change. The lyrical and dreamy dance numbers fade away as their relationship continues to settle into reality.
La La Land can be taken at face value as a romantic musical with the “la la land” signifying the silly headspace we get in when we meet someone and fall in love. The rest of our life gets put on the sideline as we sing and dance with happiness. Chazelle takes it to another level beyond that as a metaphor for what it’s like to be an artist. If you’ve ever tried to make it as an actor in a big city whether it’s L.A., N.Y., or another place, you remember those beginning days where you felt like you could conquer the world. You were prepped for an audition and you gave it your all. After years of struggle, you realize that it’s extremely tough work where there are hundreds, if not thousands, of other actors there just like you. L.A. can be the city of dreams or the city of crushing realities. It can make being in relationships extremely challenging when your big break or even getting a job can distract you from the ones you love as we find with Mia and Sebastian’s relationship.
You can’t get more romantic than Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling which makes the romance of the film all the more palatable. Both of them play into their strengths as actors making it seem like singing, dancing, and playing the piano come second nature to them. Stone infuses Mia with the natural spunk that I love about her. There’s a natural vulnerability to her while always being strong and full of life. Gosling is in pure Gosling mode, and that’s not a bad thing by any means. He has a bit of an attitude but oozes that easy sex appeal, charm, and sense of humor. Between this and The Nice Guys, I think there’s a comedic side to Gosling that we don’t always associate with him. Joining them in smaller roles are John Legend as the lead singer of a band that hires Sebastian, Rosemarie Dewitt as Sebastian’s sister, and J.K. Simmons as the jerk manager who fires him.
Damien Chazelle knocks it out of the park again as he blends genres, styles, and rhythms in a way to put a literal and metaphorical spotlight on falling in love whether it’s with someone else, your career, or both. It’s a beautiful call back to the old musicals of the 1930s and 1940s. It’s modern, yet timeless. Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone are the Tom Hanks/Meg Ryan or Bogie/Bacall of this generation. I loved Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash and had those same feelings with La La Land.
Is It Worth Your Trip to the Movies? A pure delight that will make you smile from ear to ear.
RATING: 5 out of 5 TICKET STUBS