If you’re looking for a feel-good movie for the holiday season, La La Land is absolutely it. If you’re looking for a uniquely, great film with wonderful performances, once again you need go no further than La La Land. And if you don’t like musicals and think you could not possibly enjoy a movie that is unabashedly embracing the genre, think again and run to a theater near you and prepared to be dazzled and proven wrong. It is at once a charming homage to musicals of old, and a fresh take on the genre overall. This is Chazelle’s follow-up to his first equally impressive, but completely different film, Whiplash.
The movie takes place in, of course, Los Angeles, where jazz musician Sebastian, played by Ryan Gosling, and aspiring actress Mia, played by Emma Stone, keep crossing each other’s paths. Although initially unimpressed and annoyed by each other, eventually they fall in love. They’re both struggling creatives with lofty dreams, trying to make it in the tough, competitive world that is tinsel town. Sebastian is determined to keep jazz alive and one day own a night club in the heart of the city, while Mia wants an interesting career in film and theater. At the point they start dating, she’s beyond fed up with the auditioning process and rejection, but Sebastian proves to be a bright-eyed source of encouragement. They’re young, beautiful and in love; talented, hard-working and ambitious. What could go wrong? Well, life happens, the rent needs to be paid, and love is ever challenged.
Through it all there is music. Although the singing and dancing isn’t constant, it’s appropriately placed and well crafted, with different types, such as traditional old school musical diddies, slower, melodic songs, classical jazz and jazz fusion. Mostly very different in style and placement than that of director Damien Chazelle’s first feature, Whiplash. The quality with La La Land is just as high as Whiplash, but here Chazelle is showing he’s got range and he’s got lots of talent. It’s also obvious that he has admiration for filmmaker Jacques Demy, a French director who put out a few films as a nod to Hollywood musicals. The Young Girls of Rocherfort and The Umbrellas of Chermbourg had a specific style, with the bright pastels, combination of big and intimate musical selections, mixed with jazz. In fact, the opening number of La La Land, with dozens of drivers stuck in traffic breaking out in song and dance, is no doubt a direct reference to Demy’s opening sequence in the Young Girls of Rochefort.
Amidst the dramas of 2016, La La Land offers a refreshing departure- a musical with heart, levity and substance.