La La Land
La La Land
2016. Directed by Damien Chazelle.
The grand musical is an elusive creature. A rare breed of poetic cinema that has been forsaken for quick profits and massive global destruction set pieces. Damien Chazelle's second directorial effort uses classical influences to deliver a heart warming epic about love, loss, and the undeniable importance of artistic pursuits.
The film's opening traffic jam dance sequence is nothing short of pure Hollywood magic. Featuring meticulous choreography and a brilliant collage of Los Angeles culture, the viewer is instantly transported into Chazelle's hyper romanticized wonderland and then taken on a blissful waltz through the highlights of an earnest romance between two modern day dreamers.
Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone give career high performances as star aligned lovers who find one another in the endless sea of stars, the leftovers of a culture obsessed with recognition and validation. Their chemistry is an organism unto itself, transcending the usual check boxes of the romantic genre by presenting two ideas of individuality. Gosling's jazz musician hopeful is stubborn and fixated on the greatness of the past, while Stone's budding actress harbors an intense understanding of the foundation of cinema and yet desires to make it something of her own design. These narrative decisions makes their interactions strained throughout the film, but are essential to the framework that drives their relationship through the story's four acts.
Chazelle's script borrows heavily from Demy's masterpiece The Umbrellas Cherbourg, but where Cherbourg focuses on the inconveniences of adulthood and their tragic consequences, Chazelle keeps the attention on creative devotion and its ultimate cost. The musical numbers are somewhat overshadowed by the Linus Sandgren's rich visuals and Mary Zophres's lush costume design, but are masterfully woven into the sun drenched tableau. City of Stars is the most memorable number, with Gosling's solo performance on a pier foreshadowing the film's denouement while charmingly imitating the noir films that helped build the city's star studded reputation.
In theaters now, La La Land is a formidable contender for Best Picture. It features every attribute that the academy is drawn to: A memorable love story, beautiful visual compositions, and a unique interpretation of the tried and true love story formula. This is a film that is the sum of its parts. While each of the individual pieces are somewhat predictable and underdeveloped, their gestalt effect is nothing short of a stunning, and a genuine good time; the reason we go to the movies in the first place. If you're looking for a feel good story with a mature approach to the realization of personal dreams, La La Land will make you laugh, cry, and ultimately remember the joy of the big screen.