Writer/director Damien Chazelle left audiences around the world in awe with the tremendously intense Whiplash. His portrayal and use of jazz music proved to be an exceptional addition to a film about perfection and sacrificing everything to chase one's dreams. Chazelle's newest feature to take the festival circuit by storm titled La La Land contains traces of similar themes, but brings us an entirely different world of jazz. Whether or not you're an enthusiast of the genre, this is a piece of cinema that reminds us of golden age Hollywood in a way that is pure magic. You owe it to yourself to see this movie.
Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) is a jazz pianist with the dreams of opening up his own club that performs the traditional sound that he admires so much. Nothing seems to be going right for him, until he meets Mia (Emma Stone), who is facing a similar disappointment in her dreams of becoming a Hollywood actress. Set in Los Angeles, the two artists can never seem to stop running into each other.
For those who haven't been paying attention, don't be alarmed that this is a musical. Coming from a critic who isn't a fan of the genre, La La Land is different. While there are musical numbers, they boost the film's narrative, rather than take away from it. The story is broken up into a series of chapters, represented by the seasons of the year. The first act depicts Mia and Sebastian's different perspectives, as they continue to cross paths. However, it's depicted in a way that is a non-romantic romance, which allows the characters to develop individually quite nicely on their own level, rather than depending on the other for disposition. By the time that the inevitable romance develops between them, we have already developed true feelings for the roles. The audience will undeniably feel a deep connection to Mia and Sebastian that makes us a much more active component in the storytelling.
The two leads may be adults, but La La Land serves as a coming-of-age film of sorts to the leads. They are both chasing their dreams in Los Angeles, as many people do across the world. Some seasons depict a consistently happy and dream-like quality, while others display the hard-hitting reality that never lets up. These two tones are balanced incredibly well, as it portrays life as an unpredictable ride with the extreme highs and lows that we all experience. Mia and Sebastian are both stubborn in their own ways, although their vulnerabilities begin to arise as they get closer to one another. This forces each of them to mature in ways that they never thought they would need to in order to pursue their dreams. Chazelle's screenplay is a true force of magic that feels tremendously relevant and impactful, even despite its countless references to golden age Hollywood that are meant to provide the feature with a classic tone.
Jazz holds a special place in Chazelle's artistic soul, and that's clear. Sebastian reminds us of the incredibly high demands expected in this particular genre, as we saw in Whiplash. However, La La Land seeks to restore jazz's meaning in the audience, as this music is typically used in elevators and as background music at dinner parties. Sebastian tells Mia that the music is dying in modern society, which feels much more like a message for the audience. The film tackles the idea of traditionalism versus revolutionism in Sebastian's career path, as well as in Mia's acting dreams. How much are they willing to compromise with life to achieve the goals that they have set out for themselves? This is a very personal journey that hits all of the right notes, and ultimately hits us right in the gut.
La La Land is a great example of a filmmaker placing a great amount of trust in the stars. The performances are incredibly natural, and never feel overly-produced. Emma Stone delivers the performance of her career as Mia. She's exceptionally charismatic in every scene, as she constantly proves that nobody could play this part the way that she has here. Ryan Gosling is just as impressive in the role of Sebastian. However, they share a sense of chemistry that is out of this world. Their connection is what carries the film to our hearts, and making their journeys through life feel that much more important. Chazelle's extreme focus on their performances works wonders.
This musical impresses just as much on the technical side, as it does in its screenplay. Those who live in Los Angeles can tell you that there aren't real seasons here. However, Chazelle's visual design makes each chapter of this story feel radically different. He utilizes a variety of color palettes and filters that allow Mia and Sebastian's journey to never look stagnant. The music consistently impresses from its opening number to its final sequence. Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone's "City of Stars" is sure to receive an abundance of Oscar attention, as this song is the heart of the entire film.
Writer/director Damien Chazelle has crafted a true masterpiece in La La Land. It speaks to the heart and soul in a way that manages to exist in a dream-like perspective and a gut-wrenching reality at the same time. This is a narrative that packs hope and sadness in ways that few films could ever hope to balance tonally. Regardless of your opinion of musicals, nobody can deny this feature's outstanding tunes. Emma Stone delivers the best performance of her career, especially in developing the irresistible chemistry with Ryan Gosling that is guaranteed to have audiences going ‘gaga' for La La Land. It's the best film of the year. DVD Talk Collector Series.