“Here’s to the ones who dream.”
Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), a lover of the improvisational nature of jazz, dreams of one day owning his very own jazz club. Mia (Emma Stone) has held a love of cinema for her entire life, going as far as dropping out of school and moving to L.A. to pursue her dream of becoming an actress. Dreams are the thematic and emotional core of La La Land, defining the character arcs of its two leads. While initially on separate paths, their stories collide with one another enough times for them to finally say “what the hell, let’s give this thing a shot.”
They are both struggling artists of sorts, so there exists a mutual understanding of each other’s plights. Sebastian does not at all care what others think of him or his music, whereas Mia perhaps cares too much about the opinions of others. This dichotomy between the two characters’ attitudes towards their artistic expression gives real texture to their relationship, helping push one another towards chasing their dreams.
From the very first scene, La La Land wears its influences on its sleeve, erupting in a lavish musical number in the middle of a congested traffic jam reminiscent of ye olde Hollywood. Like this year’s earlier Hail, Caesar!, La La Land acts as a love letter to classic Hollywood, particularly ‘50s style CinemaScope musicals. Director Damien Chavelle (Whiplash) goes as far to shoot the film in this format, seamlessly blending the old and optimistic sensibilities of classic films with the aesthetic and irony of modern-day Los Angeles. La La Land bursts with vividly beautiful colors. Every single frame is gorgeous, adding up to be the most visually stunning film of the year.
Not only does this refer to the color palette, but the camera work as well. The feats Chavelle employs with the camera are simply jaw-dropping at times. He is constantly dazzling and impressing with the copious amount of energetic long takes and tracking shots used for these extravagant musical numbers, granting the film an almost dreamlike quality. However, as the film goes on Chavelle’s technique changes. The dreamy and magical filming style that defines the swelling love of Mia and Seb give way to quicker methodical cuts as their relationship grows more rocky and complicated. The second half of the film features a significantly lesser amount of sweeping ballads. Instead, it gives prominence to slower, more intimate piano melodies, emphasizing the bittersweet nature of love conflicting with one’s desire to pursue dreams.
The blossoming romance between Mia and Seb is both heartwarming and heart-wrenching. Like the two star-crossed lovers, La La Land sweeps you off your feet in a roller-coaster of emotional highs and lows of contemporary relationships. This is Gosling and Stone’s third film together, previously appearing in Crazy Stupid Love and Gangster Squad, and their chemistry is as electric as it has ever been.
While they are both excessively funny people on their own, their comedic chops are only amplified when they are able to continuously bounce off of one another. Hollywood finally seems to have woken up and realized that Gosling is fucking hilarious. For an extended amount of time, the actor was type-cast into quiet, brooding, “weirdo” roles, but now with The Nice Guys and now La La Land, Gosling is able to exhibit his wide range of acting talents. La La Land might mark the best performance of his career. It highlights his ability to juggle comedy, drama, and authenticity.
Gosling’s performance is one of pure magnetism and charisma, and when mixed with the equally stellar and raw performance of Stone allow for a compelling and enthralling romance. Every note of the melody of their relationship is played to pitch perfection, elevating their delightful romance to a genuine and heartfelt examination of love.
As is expected of musicals, their declarations of love often manifest themselves in the form of song and dance. The music is fantastic, from the exuberant and boisterous musical numbers to the more quiet and somber melodies, every bit is infectious to listen to. The recurring renditions of “City of Stars” in particular is an absolute joy and helps emphasize many of the film’s underlying themes. However, what is unique about the music found in La La Land is its use of less-than-perfect singers. They are still extremely talented singers mind you, but the few flaws that make themselves known in the music help to make the film feel that more personal and earnest.
La La Land is a film of celebration, well versed in the cinematic language. It’s steeped in its love of classic romance, of Hollywood, of jazz, of life, and of dreams. It delivers wholeheartedly a tale of sincere romance, complete with both a bittersweet and happily ever after ending, with each effectively informing one another. It acts as the perfect junction of everything I adore about cinema, why is why I’m not hesitating to call this the best damn film of the year.