You laugh a little and cry a little. But, mostly, you smile and feel and sigh, and let the visuals, the music and the story surge through your heart. La La Land is about two people falling in love while chasing their dreams.
The film is still playing in local movie houses, so, no spoilers ahead.
Yes, La La Land is a musical and a love story. But it’s quite unlike any musical or love story I’ve ever seen. I’m glad that there was no attempt to pattern it after the musicals of the 40’s and the 50’s. Although the visuals give off a 50’s feel (I read that the film was shot in CinemaScope), the rhythm of the story is very much today. No grand production numbers except for the jaw-dropping opening scene (“Another Day of Sun”). No prolonged dancing nor singing. The music does not take over the story but judiciously heightens the narrative about the lives of artists who live and breathe to reach for the stars.
It is magnificent.
Emma Stone deserves that Golden Globe award. When she sang “Someone in the Crowd” (with Callie Hernandez, Sonoya Mizuno and Jessica Rothe) and “City of Stars” (with Ryan Gosling), I thought her voice was too thin to carry her through the film. But, towards the end when she sang solo [“Audition (The Fools Who Dream)”], she more than vindicated the decision to cast a non-singer in a singing role in a musical. Her face, her body language and her voice were pure emotion.
I’ve seen videos of a much younger Ryan Gosling singing and dancing on stage so I knew he has had some experience doing musical numbers. But was that really him playing the piano with such passion and bravura? According to La La Land director Damien Chazelle, yes, the piano-playing was “all Ryan.” Oh, yes, he deserves his Golden Globe win too.
Stone and Gosling were splendid. And if you’ve seen them together on screen before, if you’ve seen them in Crazy, Stupid Love, you’d know what fantastic screen chemistry they project. Sparks fly, and the glitter and glow hit you even if you try to dodge. In La La Land, they were simply magical.
But La La Land is so much more than the performance of its lead actors. It is just as much about the music and the story. “City of Stars” has already won the Golden Globe Award for Best Original Song but you have to see the film to experience the entire soundtrack.
And what about the story? It’s a love story. When you’ve seen one, haven’t you seen then all? Nope, not in this case. This is no cheesy love story. This is about making hard decisions about where love and long-haul relationship figure in life when you’re out there fighting tooth and nail to be the best artist that you are capable of becoming. And yet, the romantic scenes—like the simple gesture of holding hands for the first time—are so enchanting that you feel your heart melting.
And then, there’s the production design. The lighting is so dreamy. One moment, the inside of a nightclub fills the screen, then the piano playing begins and, suddenly, everything goes dark as a lone spotlight focuses on the piano player, his face only partially lit to show how much emotion is pouring out of him through his fingers as they hit the keys.
But the best part is the montage at the end of the film. The what if montage, I call it. I can’t write about it without giving away the entire story but it is the most heart-wrenching romantic scene I have ever scene.
Yes, I loved Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash. But I love La La Land ten times over. I’ve sworn off Hollywood so often in the past but I think I’ve fallen in love again.