Review: Damien Chazelle – the director of critically acclaimed Whiplash – crafts a sharp-witted, jazz-spirited romance in La La Land. It’s a love, no, passion letter to the beauty of music, of cinema, of L.A., and of dream.
La La Land, undoubtedly, is a bunch of happiness, blissful tunes and whoop-de-do wrapped in an ethereal rhapsody. It’s an exhilarating, feel-good musical that will take you to the stars and make you reluctant to touch the ground again, even if you’re not familiar with classic musical.
This absorbing idyll centers in the intertangled life of Sebastian Wilder (Ryan Gosling), a pianist—jazz purist who aspires to keep ‘the jazz’ in tact and to establish a jazz club—and Mia Dolan (Emma Stone), an aspiring actress and a barista.
The two accidentally meet in a meet-cute during an exquisite traffic jam cued with Broadway-esque Another Day of Sun, an opening bravura that leads to other musical moments composed by Chazelle’s Harvard friend, Justin Hurwitz (who also worked with him in Whiplash), with lyrics astutely written by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul. Mia is reading some pages for an audition later in the day, while Seb, driving a convertible, is heading home before performing later in a restaurant.
There’s a point where La La Land is presented from two different perspectives: Mia’s and Seb’s. Yet, it’s only temporary, before the two finally meet again in one turning point of this film marked with a beautiful piano composition, Mia & Sebastian’s Theme. Since then, their meet-cute is always marked with beautiful, lyrical music that works as a bookmark to some episodes in Mia and Seb’s eventual romance.
From a sardonic tap dance on a hill to the rhythm A Lovely Night, a ballad for two that grants them a place at City of Stars, even a ‘real’ dance under the star at the planetarium, to a defining chapter in their relationship in The Fools who Dream, Chazelle assures that life is but musical. His subtle and sublime direction suggests that you’d rather relax your muscle and let the music moves you.
While set in present day, La La Land often miraculously travels to the past, to Hollywood’s golden era. Even, the characters sometime ‘leave the real world’ they’re living in and break into songs, which leap through imagination and stumble in dreamlike alternate universe. La La Land only opts to be majestic and magical at the same time, surrendered to its classic splendors: finest tunes, splendid choreography, technicolor sets, as well as one-perfect-shot materials with precision and effective blocking.
It’s easy to judge La La Land as a style-over-substance opus; but, La La Land really isn’t. Although the narrative is undeniably simple, it has all the quality of being sweet, unpredictable, and bold simultaneously. The narrative digs up a profound character study of two people with each dreams and idealism, as well as how they sustain each other, to some points, become each other’s dream. Chazelle keeps ensuring that audiences get connected with the characters almost all the time and finally root for them. Therefore, when a small narrative flip during the third act entirely switches how you perceive the story that has been built sweetly in the beginning, the justifying ending feels fair and satisfying. In short, it is a feel-good film that won’t let you feel good when it’s over.
Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling might not be the perfect casts to portray Mia and Seb, but their imperfection is really what makes the two a new fan-favorite cinematic couple. Both Stone and Gosling has never been this convincing before. They might not be natural-born singers or swaying dancers, but there’s a quality in them that makes them be. The camera loves to take close-up shot to the two leads’ facial expression, to the way they gaze and smile, as seen in several pivotal points, like in Mia & Sebastian’s Theme scene, Mia’s heartthrobbing audition scene and, undeniably, the final scene. Yet, among everything else, the best thing about them is: the endless chemistry that lingers even when the credit rolls. When it’s over, there’s an urgency to see more of them being together, making it difficult to move on from that; and that’s amazing since this isn’t a hyperbole mode.
In the end, La La Land feels like an only chance to dance under the lilac sky of Hollywood hill, in a park that overlooks the magnificent view of the City of Angels, with someone you’ve loved and been wanting to dance with since forever. It is delightful, magical and majestic. When it ends, you only want to have one more chance, but then you realize that you have spent your only chance. It’s bittersweet.