Thursday, December 22, 2016

Review: La La Land (2016)

"Here's to the ones who dream; foolish as they may seem. Here's to the hearts that ache; here's to the mess we make."

Movie: La La Land
Staring: Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone
Released: December 9, 2016

             "The World you have dedicated to Hollywood," former Walt Disney Company CEO Michael D. Eisner declared at the 1989 opening of the then-Disney MGM Studios. "Not a place on a map," he continued, "but a state of mind that exists wherever people dream and wonder and imagine." He concluded his remarks by welcoming all to "a Hollywood that never was—and always will be." Eisner very easily could have been describing the world created by Damien Chazelle in the new musical, La La Land. Not since Singin’ in the Rain, has the magic and essence of Hollywood been so effectively captured on film.
Simply stated, La La Land is a masterpiece; a stunning sensation for the senses, both visually and audibly. It’s a whimsical tale about two ordinary people with extraordinary dreams, achievable because of the effects that a series of chance encounters they share with one another has on each of them.
As the film opens, audiences are transported to a musical world in which drivers, stuck for hours in one of Los Angeles’ infamous traffic jams, abandon their vehicles for song and dance in the kind of ensemble performance that’s all too rare in today’s motion pictures. It’s on this LA freeway that Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), a down-on-his luck jazz purist and pianist, and Mia (Emma Stone), an ever-auditioning, aspiring actress, first meet, as Mia flips an annoyed, horn-honking Sebastian the bird while he cuts her off. After a few more false starts and a little flirtatious banter, the chemistry between the two builds to the point of becoming almost tangible.
Eventually, against a sunset sky specially crafted for lovers, Mia and Sebastian sing and dance their way into each other’s hearts. Despite their initial belief that such “A Lovely Night” is wasted on two people who could not be more incompatible, through a tit for tat tap dance, they begin to recognize that when working together, the routine is stronger than when apart. Each recognizes the potential for greatness in the other, while doubting the potential residing within themselves.
While neither Gosling nor Stone have the vocal or rhythmic talent of Astaire or Rogers, that works to their advantage. Their performances provide the audience an opportunity to see themselves in their characters; we feel as though anyone could sing and tap dance in front of the Hollywood hills at sunset and be a star. That’s not to take away from either performer, however, as both were nothing short of mesmerizing. Still, there’s a sort of humility that they portray that, when coupled with the simplicity of the choreography and of the lyrics, provides Gosling and Stone a special kind of charm.
Equally as mesmerizing as the film’s co-stars is Justin Hurwitz’s score. In recent years, so often music seems to be nothing more than an afterthought in the filmmaking process. Not so in La La Land, where it often feels as though the film were constructed around Hurwitz’s melodies. In what may be the most memorable scene of the movie, the score quite literally soars through the star-filled skies of Hollywood along with a waltzing Stone and Gosling. There’s such an elegance and timeless quality to the scene; save for technology, it could very easily have been filmed during Hollywood’s golden years, and deserves to go down in history as one of the most memorable scenes of any movie musical. Hurwitz is definitely a composer to watch for in the future.
Hollywood itself also takes center-stage in La La Land. The City of Los Angeles has never looked so stunning. Chazelle fills the city with bold, vibrant colors, evoking imagery of Hollywood at her prime. This is the sort of backdrop that dreams are made of; it’s not at all hard to imagine Humphrey Bogart or Katharine Hepburn walking these streets. It’s fitting, considering the movie as a whole serves as a reminder that Hollywood is a city built on dreams.
Therein lies the brilliance of this picture. Just as Hollywood is a city of dreams, La La Land is a movie of dreams. In an era of cynicism, La La Land reminds us of the joy and beauty that can be found in everyday life. It reminds us of the power of friendship and love, and of the difference that one person can make in the life of another. And it does it all through beautiful imagery, song, and dance. In La La Land, every day is a dream come true, and despite the difficulties they face, Sebastian and Mia live life as though it is a dream. Perhaps here in the real-world, we should strive to live that way as well. 

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