La La Land


Towards the end of the first act in La La Land (let’s say the 45 minute mark), our protagonists Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) and Mia (Emma Stone) visit the Griffith Observatory after watching Rebel Without a Cause (which features a pivotal scene there). Of course they are the only ones there, so they’re free to walk around the place alone. As they do this, they eventually enter the planetarium to gaze up at the stars, and the orchestration begins to build in the background. The two of them look at each other, hold hands, and Sebastian gently lifts Mia up. She floats up into the stars with Sebastian, and they begin to dance.

It’s rare these days to watch a movie and describe it as magical, live action ones at least. Every other animated movie seems to get that title. While I can’t call La La Land as a whole magical, there’s two scenes in particular that earn the description, that transcend the screen and become something truly special. The observatory scene is one of them.

Like the western, movie musicals seemed to have died out. Nowadays the only musicals we see are the big screen adaptations of Broadway musicals. I really have a hard time thinking of the last true musical to come out, one written specifically for the screen. So even if La La Land was a failure, where nothing worked, the performances were bad, songs lazy, dancing and plot uninspired, I would have to give La La Land some credit for trying in a genre that stopped trying a long time ago.

I am so happy to say that’s not the case. Almost everything in La La Land works.

For starters, I’m just happy to know Damien Chazelle isn’t a one-trick pony. That Whiplash wasn’t his Sixth Sense and that he didn’t have sophomoric luck on only one movie. He’s a director who is coming into his own as an artist, let’s hope he sticks around for a while.

This is the third on-screen pairing of Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, and their chemistry is undeniable by this point. Chazelle said he casted them because they were the closest thing now to an old Hollywood couple like Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy, and he’s not wrong. They interact and bicker in that delightful way that’s impossible to fake with two people who don’t actually like each other. To just watch them share the screen together is a treat.

As for the movie itself, it could fit in with any other Technicolor musical from the 40’s 50’s. It has the exact same look as Jacques Demy’s Umbrellas of Cherbourg and The Young Girls of Rochefort (the two biggest film influence on the movie, and two movies you need to see if you haven’t) Chazelle really nailed the color pallet from that era, with every detail of the production design seeming to pop out of the screen. At least for the first half of the film, that is. For whatever reason, the classic Hollywood-era style fades from the picture in service for a bit more traditional look, which I guess was to fit the tone of the plot. The classic Hollywood style does come back around very end, in the second sequence I would call magical. To be clear, this lapse in style isn’t really a problem or a fault, it’s just something I noticed.

In face, La La Land is pretty devoid of faults. The only major issue I had with it were the songs. They weren’t bad by any means. They were just a bit bland, and fairly forgettable. That’s the only reason it’s not at the same level as Umbrellas or Young Girls. The music in those movies was incredible and on a whole other level from the songs in La La Land. I had “I Will Wait for You” rolling around in my head for days after seeing Umbrellas. The only one I really remembered from La La Land leaving the theater was “Here’s to the Mess We’ve Made”, and I can think of three reasons why I remembered it. One; it was one of the last songs in the movie, two; it was Emma Stone’s big show-stopping number and she really delivered, and three; it’s the song used in the trailer. So that might have something to do with it’s presence in my memory.

You could also pull faults from other things about La La Land too. Do the characters evolve at all, does it really try anything new as a musical, is it a case of style over substance? But these are nitpicky issues at best. You’d have to be heartless to hate La La Land. It’s is such a joyous movie, so celebratory of the musical genre and filled with energy, that even by the time it ends on it’s bittersweet note it’s impossible not to leave smiling. “Magical” may not be the best word to describe it. But “miracle” is.