La La Land
La La Land (2016)
★★★ / ★★★★
“How are you going to be a revolutionary if you’re such a traditionalist?” asks a former classmate (John Legend) who has since found commercial success in the music business to Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), a jazz pianist who dreams of owning his own bar one day. Although “La La Land,” written and directed by Damien Chazelle, is neither a revolutionary nor a traditional musical, it offers a highly watchable escapist romp and delivers a few welcome surprises especially in terms of what it wishes to say about reaching one’s career goals.
The film emits exuberance and the love for song and dance right from its opening sequence. A smile was drawn on my face because it dares to show a real Los Angeles—not simply when it comes to the level of traffic, the noise, and the heat that settles on motor vehicles but also in terms of the level of diversity we see on screen.
Mainstream pictures tend to show a version of Los Angeles that it still too bland and whitewashed in this day and age so it is most refreshing that a reality of various skin colors, body types, and hair textures are captured from the get-go despite the genre being a musical with fantastic elements. This first scene, clearly influenced by a memorable scene in the classic musical “Fame,” makes quite a powerful statement and it is something that I expect from an independent feature film, not a mainstream work with well-known stars—a most welcome surprise.
Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling share effortless chemistry, the former playing a barista on the lot of a movie studio. Mia, like thousands of men and women in LA, dreams of becoming a movie or television performer. Stone and Gosling have a certain rapport that is endearing—even the moments between dialogue command a certain tactile bond that works beautifully in both comedic and dramatic scenes. The two may not have the strongest voices to carry a musical but this should not be counted against them because they should be actors first and singers second.
Despite the actors’ excellent chemistry, the middle section is most problematic. Notice that when life-changing events are not front and center, the pacing slows dramatically to the point of plateau. The material is divided into five sections: winter, spring, summer, fall, and winter once again. Spring and summer is the blossoming of Mia and Sebastian’s romantic relationship which should be just as powerful—if not more—than the major life events that attempt to derail them from the paths they have set for themselves especially because these potential changes challenge them as a pair.
For instance, a most uninspiring scene, egregious in content and execution, involves Mia talking about her past, her hopes, and her dreams to a man she is beginning to like on a romantic level. What should have been a defining moment is shot instead like a throwaway scene—camera from a distance, two people walking in a shot together, not one closeup is employed. Not to mention Mia’s story is so ordinary, she might as well not have said anything because smart audiences have already made assumptions—correct ones at that—about her past and where she hopes to go. I grew bored of the character’s lack of interest in her own life and the lack of energy in making someone else be interested in her life. My sentiment lasted till the next season. Chazelle ought to have rewritten the scene.
“La La Land” is at its most compelling when it hones in on the sacrifices one must make in order to reach one’s dream—or at times settling for a version of one’s dream. It asks us to consider the following: if we choose to sacrifice bits of who we are in order to get a little closer to our goals, by the time we reach these goals, can it still be considered as a success when our core values have been inevitably changed by such sacrifices? Not a philosophical film by any means, the ideas are there if one chooses to ponder. And for those who would rather not think too deeply, there is colorful and toe-tapping entertainment to be enjoyed.