La La Land opens on a highway, with music blaring from each colorful car stuck in typical Los Angeles traffic. The camera eventually settles on a woman in a bright yellow dress, who begins the first catchy tune of the musical — “Another Day of Sun.” Besides being an introduction to the main characters, Ryan Gosling’s Sebastian and Emma Stone’s Mia, the musical number is the first indication that this film is going to be unlike anything we’ve experienced in recent years.
As the three-shot take dashes from singer to singer, swinging upward to catch a kid who flips a bicycle off the top of a car, the necessity of Cinemascope in this film is obvious. Cinemascope, a filming style that makes the movie as wide as the screen, hasn’t really been used in years, and it brings an old-world look to the film right off the bat. There is something happening in every corner of the screen, a perfectly choreographed dance of color and music and light.
La La Land is billed as a film about the romance between hipster-y, jazz-obsessed Sebastian and disappointed aspiring actress Mia as they strive to succeed in their respective fields. It’s a classic Hollywood tale.
But it’s about so much more than that, too.
It’s not just a typical romantic film, with two characters that sail off into the sunset. It’s a musical that dives into the swirling fight between the pull of ambition and the pull of love, and how we can’t always have everything. As Sebastian says about jazz, “It's conflict and it's compromise, and it's very, very exciting!”
The movie was nominated for 14 Oscars and picked up seven Golden Globes, and it deserves every accolade. Paired with an enchanting Justin Hurwitz score and sweeping musical scenes, the film has heartbreak, humor and a charming sense of both old and new being united together.
The songs throughout, like “City of Stars” and the “Mia & Sebastian” melody, are dazzlingly simple. The key dance scene, accompanied by “A Lovely Night,” overlooks the city, with its pink-sherbet sky and twinkling city lights in the background. The scene is reminiscent of old-Hollywood Gene Kelly or Ginger Rogers — breaking out into song and foot-tapping in the middle of a regular night, but making it seem both completely beautiful and totally run-of-the-mill.
Damien Chazelle, who also directed 2013’s Whiplash, made La La Land into an artful powerhouse. From the flowing camera movements to the elegant backdrops of the scenes, the musical is a delight from start to finish. This movie is a refreshing reprieve from the typical sequel or superhero movie that has been plaguing Hollywood for years.
It brings absolute magic back into cinema.
The movie shifts effortlessly between contrasting scenes of gritty realism, as Mia and Sebastian fight for their relationship in the green-tinged living room of a cheap apartment, and surreal scenes where the pair, dressed to the nines in glamorous retro garb, dances through a painterly landscape.
While Gosling and Stone don’t have the Broadway voices of, say, Hamilton’s Renée Elise Goldsberry, their voices help showcase the simple, touching songs the film features. Gosling learned to play piano for this movie, but the lack of Broadway-level singing and musical ability gives the film a realistic tenacity.
Beyond the captivating soundtrack, La La Land comfortably brings the viewer into its world, leading moviegoers on a stunning emotional journey. The film undergoes a significant tone shift when Sebastian plays his first show with synth-pop band The Messengers (with John Legend’s Keith). Stone is primarily a face actor, and every emotional tremor of the film is shown in her wide eyes. When Sebastian begins playing an electric piano, departing from the art and passion of traditional jazz, Mia is pushed away, tumbling back into the crowd as new fans surge toward Sebastian.
From that scene, the movie becomes less about the pursuit of romance and beautiful scenes, and more about the choices Mia and Sebastian must make for themselves and for each other. They realize the pursuit of dreams can be messy and heartbreaking.
In one of the songs nominated for Best Original Song, “Audition (The Fools Who Dream),” Mia passionately recounts a story about her aunt, singing “Here's to the fools who dream / Crazy as they may seem / Here's to the hearts that break / Here's to the mess we make.”
Despite the candy-colored costuming and jazzy musical numbers that could be passed off as superfluous, the film’s commentary on inspiration and the transience of love is powerful.
By the end of this weekend, I’ll have seen the film four times, and when it isn’t in theatres anymore I’ll wish I could have seen it more on the big screen. Every time the lights go on, I inexplicably find myself with tears on my face. The film is intimate and inspirational, and reminds us that art doesn’t have to be perfect to stun audiences.
So here’s to La La Land, for being the movie we all never knew we needed.
MOVE gives “La La Land” 5 out of 5 stars.