Oh my heart.
Mia, a struggling actress (Emma Stone) and Sebastian, a cynical jazz pianist (Ryan Gosling) help each other navigate their way through a turbulent sea of hopes and dreams in Los Angeles, California.
|Some singing and dancing required.|
Written and directed by the ever-stunning Damien Chazelle, this little film is most popularly notable as a classically-styled musical in a day when original musical films have all but been degraded into teenybopper TV movies on the Disney Channel. But La La Land is almost as far away from classics of the 50's as it is from Teen Beach Movie. "Almost," because it was obviously inspired to evoke that unattainable former glory from those oldies that are still so magical -- but that's not where it stops. It's also an indie film; it's a romance, and a comedy, and a drama; modern in many ways, old-fashioned in others; and it presents us with just as many moments that are achingly, heart-on-the-sleeve real as it does moments of whimsy and daydreaming.
Artistically, I have nothing to complain about. Artistically, I am having trouble finding the proper words of extolment. Chazelle is gifted with an incredible way of looking at the world and an equally incredible ability to make beautiful movies out of it all. His films are, I admit without shame, beyond me. He goes so deep and details so intricately that I watch his movies and feel as though I've only scratched the surface in understanding his full vision. In the case of this film, however far I was able to comprehend beneath the surface, floored me. It seemed to me, an open letter of encouragement and admiration to the Artist in the world. As an artist, and as a dreamer, it moved me deeply.
|"Here's to the ones who dream, foolish as they may seem..."|
But, in relation to the movie, I am the barista. To the frustrated but working jazz pianists of the world, the film might mean something different, and to the successful movie star, something else entirely. Some people may simply find its whimsical charm entertaining. What the film is is what it means to Chazelle, but the beauty of it is that its language is practically universal, without having to simplify or cut corners in the storytelling. That is the common thing to do these days -- in order to relate and appeal to a wide crowd, make the story more shallow; more broad; more meaningless. La La Land does the opposite: it is so focused, and it digs so deep, unwavering and determined, that it touches upon a base desire that can resonate with anyone.
And then it's made up to look like this. My favorite thing about Chazelle's visual style is definitely his use of color, and here the color palette has been kicked up three or four notches from his last, Whiplash, but it all still feels just as intentional. I loved the very basic color scheme and the simplistic costumes made in it. Colorful lighting then adds another layer. The choreography for the dancing was lovely, and the fluid, heavily structured long-take style of the filming was as impressive as it was unique. As I said, an effort was made to recapture a magic thought to have died; it's alive and well in the dance scenes of this film. Most notably present in the sunset piece, and the planetarium.
|I often find it hard to believe successful actors in roles of struggling artists... not so here. They were perfect for their roles.|
Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling give it their all -- singing, dancing, playing the piano or acting their heart out, and were a big part of clinching the punch of the movie. Without their dedication to the performances, it probably would've been hard to accept all whimsy, and fantastic elements of the film. As it was, even the weird "randomly breaking out in song and dance" stuff didn't pull me out of the immersion one bit. It was also an unexpectedly neat touch to make Mia and Sebastian not be proficient singers. Besides adding realism, it enhanced the impact of their singing when they get into it beautifully. Gosling I have never liked or been more impressed with. "Impressive" doesn't quite cover it for Stone, though. She was more spell-binding, incredible, and heart-breaking than simply impressive. The audition scene was shredding -- in the most wonderful way possible. And she with Gosling, they oozed charm together, and achieved delightful comedy and realistic drama alike.
Leave it to Damien Chazelle to rearrange your brain and deftly shatter your heart into a thousand little pieces, yet leave you feeling nothing but unequivocal encouragement. Through his eyes, the promise of a bittersweet life seems like the best promise that can be made.