Review: La La Land (2016)

As the nostalgia-driven opening credits for La La Land roll, a musical number erupts from lanes of backed-up traffic on a picturesque overpass. From its first few minutes, I knew La La Land was going to be good. What I didn’t expect, however, was the ambition, the rawness and the poignancy that stays with you long after the end credits conclude.

La La Land explores the lives of two budding creatives, Mia (Emma Stone) and Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), who are drawn together by their passion to pursue their dreams. Mia is a barista by day, budding actress by night; Sebastian is an underemployed restaurant musician who is forced to repress his passion (and talent) for jazz. As someone who one day hopes to break into creative industry, La La Land struck a chord. The tendrils of reality often pressure you to rethink your life as you consider the pros and cons of pursuing what you love or doing what you need to get by.

From the very outset, the film plays up to the notion of pursuing your dream, but relentlessly reminds you of the realities that one’s fantasies can entail.

La La Land continually gives hope, but is quick to ground it in actuality.

Sebastian and Mia watching Rebel Without a Cause (1955).

Director Damian Chazelle has reignited the musical film. Still glowing from the success of Whiplash (2014), La La Land provides what recent films have been lacking: an unapologetic romanticism for the past; its awareness and appreciation for the classics is literally plastered all over the sets. Chazelle clearly has an affinity for music: I would argue that his work is some of the best collaborations of filmmaking and musical direction in the 21st century.

It’s what the genre needs: much like Sebastian attempts to revitalise jazz, Chazelle has done so with the musical film.

Furthermore, the cinematography is beautiful and endlessly emotive; the colours utilised mirror the constant flux of emotions exhibited by the characters, whilst also retaining the vibrancy of colour reminiscent of the 1960s. With the current political climate of the world, a film like this is what we all need.

An example of DOP Linus Sandgren’s theatre-like cinematography.

Justin Hurwitz’ soundtrack absolutely deserves commendation. It’s immersive and masterfully moulded into the narrative, the film is temporarily transformed into a show during the actors’ performances – it feels like you’re watching a show in the West End. ‘City of Stars’ and ‘Audition (The Fools Who Dream)’ are my personal favourites though, they’re all equally as impressive and refreshing to hear on a film soundtrack.

Hurwitz, talking to Vulture and podcast Song Exploder, offers an insight into the journey of making the film:

“When Damien and I first started developing this, we had this musical we wanted to make. Nobody was letting us make it. We were so passionate about it and there didn’t seem to be a path to realize that dream of making La La Land. So we were feeling a lot of the same things that the characters in this movie are feeling: having these dreams, but not having permission to make your art yet.

I still feel like a dreamer. I don’t feel accomplished yet, really. I don’t feel like I’ve arrived. I’d like to think that will always be the case because if I stop feeling like a dreamer, then I don’t think my music is going to be very good.” – Justin Hurwitz, on making La La Land

Critically, La La Land has impressed the majority. Having scooped 7 Golden Globes this year, including Best Director, Best Motion Picture and Best Soundtrack – you simply can’t ignore the hype that exudes from La La Land. I have deliberately chosen not to go into any detail about the plot as this is a film that you need to experience for yourselves.

Even if you’re not particularly fond of musicals, the rawness of Stone and Gosling’s performance offers something new to the bygone genre.

La La Land is a classic, raw love story on the face of it that in its roots performs CPR to filmmaking and all forms of art… The film is a treasure trove of references and filmmaking methods of the past that gives it both a sense of nostalgia and complete freshness.

Plus, the soundtrack is brilliantly written and is catchy as hell, and the score is a true masterpiece that only enhances the mood and messages Damien Chazelle is making. He wanted to reignite the big screen, movie-going experience, and Christ almighty he has.”

– Connor Robert Bell

The conclusion of the film, following a crescendo of references and a, quite frankly, spectacular foray into an alternate reality, can be taken on of two ways.

Emma Stone herself discusses this: “Some people are crying and feel like it was a very devastating kind of ending and some people find it kind of uplifting and beautiful, that it winds up the way it does.” She agrees with both,

“I guess what I hope people can take away from it is that hope and dreaming is not for nothing. It’s not pointless. That’s one of the best parts of being alive.” 

By all means, have a dream; live it… just prepare for the reality that your dream may turn out to be very different from what you first imagined. And perhaps that’s not a bad thing?

Still, I am a dreamer… however foolish that may seem.

Thanks for reading.

Have you seen La La Land? Let me know what you think!

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