'La La Land' is a dazzling, dreamy Tinseltown story


“La La Land” – The title of writer/director Damien Chazelle’s ("Whiplash"(2014)) latest picture refers to Los Angeles, CA, and the land where dreams are born. Young men and women travel from all over the country to find dreams of stardom in LA, and this fact is presented in the opening line of the movie. Sitting in her car on an off-ramp in a massive traffic jam, a random girl mentions that she has traveled from Santa Fe and hopes to break into “the business”.

For Mia (Emma Stone) and Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), they are trying to make their way in the City of Angels too. A struggling actress, Mia has auditioned for roles for six years without much luck, and Sebastian has just taken a thankless gig as a piano player in an upscale restaurant and resigned to playing Christmas songs, a task that he abhors. They take regular, emotional body blows to their egos, but discouragingly push forward in the hopes of something better.

They meet by chance and by chance again, and soon they form a relationship, with all of the admittedly flowery fun that a new romance can bring, and Chazelle includes the small details too: a special look, a smile, the touch of hands for the first time while they watch a movie. The positive arc of the Mia-Sebastian coupledom, though, conflicts with the reality of their aspirations. Dreams are dreams, but reality is reality, and life is not always a positive, upward trajectory. They struggle managing their separate career paths, while cherishing their personal chemistry and the beautiful music that they make together.

Speaking of music, if you did not know, “La La Land” is a musical, a rare studio release these days, and Chazelle’s choreographed numbers clearly play homage to Old Hollywood with spectacular results. Chazelle, along with a number of hired performers, light up the screen - and knocked this critic completely aback - in the opening number, “Another Day of Sun”, which has to be experienced to be believed. Some other highlights are “Somewhere in the Crowd”, “A Lovely Night” and Stone’s solo work, “The Fools Who Dream”.

Although the music is not overwhelming memorable, couple with the dazzling and complicated visuals, they fit as beautiful supporting pillars to the overall narrative. Just about everything in this picture is beautiful – both inside various sets and city of Los Angeles as a backdrop - as nearly the entire two-hour 8-minute movie feels like you are strolling through a candy factory, bursting with sugary splashes of primary colors everywhere. (Even Mia’s coffee shop, where she works as a barista, on the Warner Bros. lot is gorgeous.)

Prior to Mia and Sebastian becoming an official couple, I also noticed that Mia wore dresses with primary colors: yellow, blue and green. After the two connected, she began wearing purple, a secondary color. A secondary color, of course, takes two to tango, and a nice cinematic touch.

On the other hand, Mia and Sebastian are not exactly a perfect couple – and perhaps not perfectly suited for each other - but we root for them. We want them to succeed, because the movie evokes the idea of dreams. It evokes the idea of reaching for the stars. It evokes the idea of finding the right person and falling in love and warns about the fragile nature of a relationship potentially falling apart through a misstep or bad timing. These ideas are all cliché, of course, and have played on big screens for decades, but they absolutely triumph through this wonderful concoction of music, beauty, visuals – which also packs an unexpected, emotional wallop - in a land also nicknamed Tinseltown.

As someone who would hardly ever think to run to the theatre to watch a musical, my steadfast admiration for “La La Land” certainly is a surprise.

This movie must have me under its spell, or maybe I am dreaming?

(4/4 stars)

Image credits: Summit Entertainment