Director Martin Scorcese stated in an interview recently that he doesn’t see many new movies these days because there’s an “over-saturation of images in the world today… none of it has any meaning” and has separately said “…Cinema is dead”. A sad notion, and after such a lackluster summer like the one we’ve had this year, it’s hard to disagree – partly because it’s true, but mostly because this is Scorsese we’re talking about. However, I’d wager that it’s movies like director Damien Chazelle’s magical musical La La Land that would make a solid argument to that analysis. In what is certainly one of the most visually vivid, dazzling and spectacular movies of the year, Chazelle has drawn from the golden age of Hollywood musicals and brought it back to life with something that feels totally original and refreshing, fitting nicely into a contemporary setting whilst also giving a humble nod to that by-gone era, and presenting us with what is an instant Hollywood classic. We’ve not had a musical like this for decades.
Right from the opening number, “Another Day of Sun” – set on a deadlocked freeway – La La Land will pull you in and have you tapping your foot in no time, before ever meeting our two wonderful leads; young aspiring actress/ coffee shop barista, Mia (Emma Stone), and a roguish jazz piano player named Sebastian (Ryan Gosling). Their paths cross on a few amusing occasions before those inevitable sparks fly, just about at “A Lovely Night” – a song ironically about the lack of spark between the two that turns into a whimsical dance number – and if you’re not in love with La La Land by this point, then you’re in the wrong movie, friend. This is a movie that you simply can’t help but immerse yourself into – it’s truly movie magic at its finest – each song is as addictive as the next (I’m listening to the soundtrack right now), it’s irresistibly charming, fun and simply an utter joy to watch from start to finish.
Essentially, La La Land is a love story, but even more so, it’s a movie about following dreams and making them a reality, making Los Angeles the perfect setting. It’s a sobering, albeit playful look at what it’s like trying to get your foot in the door to the film industry or, in Sebastian’s case, earning respect and success as an artist in a city that’s full of them, and the sacrifices one must make to reach those goals. For Mia, getting to star status like that of the actress who comes by her coffee shop from time to time is something she strives for, but after numerous dud auditions in front of half-interested producers, her bright optimism slowly falters. Sebastian goes from job to job, succumbing to playing mundane tunes for a quick buck, whilst working to his dream of opening his own jazz club. Together, the two push and encourage each other forward to those goals, but it’s not without a price. Sometimes it means selling out on your beliefs, sometimes it means taking a huge risk and taking a leap of faith. Needless to say, dreams and bitter realities alike are met along the way, but the overall conclusion – which is summed up in a stirring epilogue that to describe here will only spoil it – will leave you somewhere conflicted between an agonizing sadness and pure elation, needless to say, it’s a perfect end.
From Whiplash we knew that Chazelle knew his way around a musical number, but even I had my doubts that La La Land, a wholly original musical, could be as magical as it looked. I’m so so glad that I was wrong. Along with both the composer (Justin Hurwitz) and editor (Tom Cross) of the former movie, throw in DOP Linus Sandgren and that lush Cinemascope, and what you get is a flawlessly comprised film. There’re lush tracking shots that aren’t used as a gimmick, but rather immersing you further into the magic unfolding on screen, the gorgeous backdrops, the marvelous choreography – it all comes together so seamlessly that it’s easy to to get swept away. And the soundtrack, the core to any musical, is just excellent. There’s not a bad track to be found, AND THERE’S ALWAYS THAT ONE BAD SONG. The only standout for me would be John Legend’s track, “Start a fire”, but that’s more out of context to the story than anything. As for the rest of the tracks, set to a jazzy theme throughout, they’re all so catchy that I can’t tell you how many times I’ve listened to “A Lovely Night” or my personal favorite, “Someone in the Crowd”.
None of it would be possible were it not for the more-than-abled cast. As ever, Gosling and Stone’s chemistry radiates from the screen, perfectly matched to the characters, and both perfectly capable of some smooth dance moves (as well as vocals) – they both seem to be at such ease in what I’m sure had to be an arduous production. I ask you, name another pair of actors who could’ve sold this movie more exquisitely? The rest of the cast takes a small role to their story, but everyone – from supporting cast to the extras – everyone is in top form here and everyone seems to be having a hell of a time, and who can blame them?
La La Land is a marvelous triumph of a movie, one that makes you want to get up and sing and dance, it’ll make you laugh and grin like an idiot, it’ll make you cry, and it’ll be stuck in your head for a good time to after. Personally, for me, it evokes similar joys I had when watching Mary Poppins as a child (and that’s saying something), which sounds lame, I know, but with its’ devotion to movie magic and immersing it’s audience into the fun and fantastical – from the “Planetarium” scene to that last little nod from Ryan Gosling (classic). It’s an exhilarating, sensational piece of cinema, one perfect for the holidays, and for life in general really – it’s one for the ages. It’s the feel-good movie of the year, and one that hope Mr. Scorsese will see in theaters.