When I first started this blog, seven years ago now, I didn’t like musicals. What a dumb thing to say, it’s like telling Ryan Gosling’s character in La La Land that you don’t like jazz. Sure, some musicals can let you down, just like bland jazz elevator music. But once you give jazz, or musicals, a chance you find that it is an art form with so much life, energy and no matter how nostalgic they can invigorate even the dreariest of dreamers. La La Land is a toe-tapping, heart melting, visually spectacular spectacle of a musical film and I loved every minute of it.
The film opens with a familiar Los Angeles scene, cars stuck in traffic. As the camera moves, each car has their own sound and style of music. Suddenly, a song and dance breaks out and people get out of their cars to join in singing Another Day of Sun. It’s an amazingly choreographed piece that feels authentically spontaneous, complete with skateboards, BMX bikes and a band in the back of a truck. The amazing image of people of all shapes, colors and styles dancing together on top of their cars on a highway bridge is thrilling and beautiful. Most impressive of all is that the whole scene is one continuous longshot.
In Damien Chazelle’s La La Land, Emma Stone portrays Mia, a struggling actress and Ryan Gosling is Sebastian, a pianist who dreams of opening his own jazz club. Their story is not love at first sight, or even third sight. They learn love by learning from each other, confessing their dreams and daring each other to chase them. But success for one makes the other’s failure all the more painful. But in La La Land, failures are just stepping stones.
The film is a colorful love letter to the Golden Age of Hollywood. Gosling’s light moves bring to mind a modern interpretation of Fred Astaire. The direct nod to Rebel Without a Cause is appreciated by classic film fans. A scene where romance starts to nosedive looks inspired by Hitchcock’s Vertigo. And by the end, Sebastian and Mia’s story turns into a shadow of Casablanca’s Bogart and Bergman.
One thing I love to see in musicals is a blur between fantasy and reality. While dancing around the planetarium after hours, Mia and Seb can suddenly float and dance among the stars. I don’t care if it’s a bit silly or overly romantic, it works and lifts your spirit lighter than air. It perfectly captures the ideal of falling in love and makes the scenes end all the more satisfying.
The films soundtrack is one of the best I’ve heard in years. Personally, I haven’t been able to stop listening to it. Another Day of Sun is a bright, energetic opening welcoming all hopefuls to Los Angeles. City of Stars is a lovely duet that perfectly embodies the heart of the film. My favorite is A Lovely Night, that captures a more comedic than romantic encounter. The scene feels like it was plucked right out of Hollywood’s Golden Age and given a new pair of dancing shoes. Mia’s Audition song is so simple, yet powerful that it could be the tipping point earning Stone her first Oscar win. And all the instrumental pieces, especially at the end, intertwine these songs so they are perfectly part of the story.
All together La La Land has earned fourteen Oscar nominations, tying it with Titanic and All About Eve for the most nominations ever. Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling are nominated for lead actress and lead actor. Two songs are nominated for best song, City of Stars and Audition (The Fools Who Dream). The other nominations include Best Picture, director, cinematography, original screenplay, film editing, costume design, original score, sound mixing, sound editing and production design. I have a good feeling that Oscar night will go well for La La Land.
There is so much to love about La La Land and I really think the best way to experience it is in a theater. Let the lights dim, let your heart soar, tap your feet, laugh and shed a few tears among friends and strangers. Great films like La La Land may only come around once in a lifetime. If you love movies at all, don’t let this one pass you by.
“I guess I’ll see you in the movies.”