I don’t even know where to begin.
I’ve been typing in full sentences and pressing backspace more than I’d to… and hopefully, this time, I actually stay with this paragraph– I actually like it. There is just so much to say, so much to process about this film that I can’t seem to really encapsulate the experience of seeing it like I normally do.
A General Thought (Or Two)
Let me begin with the obvious: the hype is real. Is it well-deserved? Yes. But does the hype tend to get overboard? Frankly, yes.
First of all– musicals aren’t a thing of the past. They’ve been done a zillion times before, to both amazing and devastating results. La La Land is a product of influences and inspiration from multiple iconic sources– Astaire and Rogers films, Gene Kelly, Old Hollywood. If you’re as lola (read: a big fan of vintage things) as I am than you can spot the Easter eggs a mile away– everything from the title card to the tap dancing sequences to the ethereal waltz are odes to legends who have done them first and have done them.. better.
What sets La La Land apart is what it does to those influences. There’s no copy pasting here, no direct reference.. Chazelle takes these nuggets of inspiration and sprinkles them into a story that is incredibly real. There’s no instant success in his Hollywood– and for most of our favorite stars, that’s how it was. You can feel the disappointment of Emma Stone’s aspiring actress Mia in every montage. You can sense the shear contempt in Gosling’s eyes as he plays a raucous Jingle Bell at his day (or should we say, night) job.
And that is what makes this film so perfect and so real, and in a league of its own. It’s no flamboyant musical– it’s no film whose every notable moment is prefaced by an over the top song– it’s one part realism, one part music and one part sweet love tale, and that is just it. It takes these multiple subplots and seamlessly puts them together in one smooth, lively, seemingly happy Hollywood film.
I won’t say much, but enough perhaps to keep clueless readers up to speed.
Ryan Gosling aka everyone’s bae aka forever Noah from the Notebook plays struggling jazz pianist Sebastian Wilder, who works a drudge-y day job at night to earn enough money to finance his own jazz place where he can keep the classic genre alive. Emma Stone aka precious, talented, comedic girl of the world plays Mia Dolan aka the personification of every aspiring small town girl who jets off to the city of stars to become one herself. In essence, we’re looking at struggling artists (that surprisingly DO NOT starve?).
I’ve already talked about my love for the realism in this movie but on the surface the plot seems rather… narcissistic. A Hollywood film about the struggle of being in Hollywood?! Almost felt like an biopic there. Thank the skies (and the stars) for Damien Chazelle.
La La Land is Ryan Gosling’s McConaughey moment.
McConaughey Moment: Works relatively long in the business, known for a number of roles– perhaps a memorable one (or two). Makes a good job choice, does well in a well-directed film (Dallas Buyers Club)– enough to garner awards, recognition and critical acclaim. Finally gets recognized.
That’s exactly what is happening to everyone’s universal babe and it’s a welcome moment, just as it was for Mr. McConaughey a few years back. Now I’m unsure which Canadian Ryan is more well-known but it sure should be Mr. Gosling, who has been in a number of pretty good movies since his breakout film opposite Rachel McAdams.
In La La Land, he ditches the raw sex appeal and smirk for a display of incredible raw talent and an inherent charm that makes him seem so endearing. It’s also nice to see that his breakdown acting (read: acting mad acting) has gone through significant improvement.
It will be interesting to see whether Gosling’s endearing performance will be enough to jet him past his drama counterpart in the Golden Globes (Casey Affleck, who took home the award for best actor in a drama film) to Oscar gold.
And then, there’s Emma Stone.
Again, I don’t know where to begin. I’ve seen her in everything from Easy A to Spiderman to Birdman but I don’t think I’ve ever been this enamored with her work. On paper her role seems easy– an actor playing an actor being a struggling actor. As a once struggling actress, she’s probably had a wellspring of experience to draw from right?
But, yet again, it’s what you do with what you have that really matters in this film– and Emma does that incredibly. The realism is not just a concept here but a manifested theme used to make the characters connect with the audience, and to make the audience connect with the characters. Emma here is not just a person on the screen conveying the story but a vessel of the story’s intended emotion that just jolts you so much that you leave the theatre feeling more moved than ever before.
That is how good she was. I’m rooting for no one else come Oscar night– this girl better take home that gold!
From traditional flamboyance to feel-good to amazing jazz, the soundtrack of this film is as smooth as its seamless plot. I’m a big fan of how it didn’t go the Broadway route by sprinkling a full blown song for each notable moment, and chose specific sequences to inject loud, lively scores that are just a joy to listen to (perfect for getting that spring in your step every Monday morning).
I won’t lie, the signature song “City of Stars” will seem like an initial snoozefest but when enjoyed post-film, it takes on a haunting character that everyone will come to appreciate. Real-life piano man John Legend brings in a bucketful of soul with his turn on “Start a Fire”. Looking to pierce a hole in your heart and bawl for all your unfulfilled dreams? listen to Emma Stone’s tour de force track “Audition (The Fools Who Dream)” and cry, cry cry.
A work sprinkled with odes, yet all its own.
Performances of incredible caliber, songs of diverse emotion– classic movie escapism at its finest, and, hopefully, the film that does usher in the revival of the Hollywood musical. These are trying times, my friends… and there’s nothing better than a dance in the sky and a tap tap twosome on the street to make everything fly slowly away… even just for a moment (or two).
In short: definitely worth watching.