La La Land: a Modern Tinseltown Tale Full of Passion and Pathos

Director:  Damien Chazelle

Screenplay: Damien Chazelle

Cast: Emma Stone, Ryan Gosling, John Legend

Musical, Drama

128 min

As a hardened advocate of modern thrillers and horror films, upbeat Hollywood musicals à la Singin’ in the Rain often feel like a tough sell to me. The core issue stems from the oddity of actors randomly bursting into song – how could any sensible moviegoer buy into that? Obviously, I’ve eventually come to realize that I commit the same suspension of disbelief whenever I admire the CGI chimps in Rise of the Planet of the Apes, or the otherworldly creature effects in Alien. Furthermore, I have always admired the musical moments in Disney classics such as The Little Mermaid and The Lion King, so perhaps I am just a hypocrite deep down? Whatever the case, it is clear that with La La Land, a story of love and jazz set in the hazy nightlights of Los Angeles, director Damien Chazelle pulls off the unlikely feat of transferring the oomph and gloss of classic musicals into the anxious world we inhabit today – and I caught myself smiling through every minute of it.

Source: Indiewire

Much like Chazelle’s previous directorial effort – the terrific drummer-drama WhiplashLa La Land kicks off with an enthusiasm and verve that sets the tone for its 2-hour duration. After a wondrously surreal opening, with snaillike LA traffic blossoming into an elaborate dance sequence, we find our heroes, aspiring actress Mia (Emma Stone) and stubborn jazz pianist Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), exchanging less-than-flattering gestures after a shaky overtake maneuver. We can obviously guess that the two will eventually hit it off, but Stone and Gosling’s nuanced performances keep us second-guessing how exactly the budding romance unfolds.

Chazelle shows off his cineliteracy whenever possible, yet he also understands when to reign in the Hollywood homages and balance them with modern, no-nonsense clarity. The vistas of Los Angeles are scattered with murals that evoke celluloid starlets of the past; faded black-and-white photos cover the walls in nightclubs, calling out to a time when jazz wasn’t “dead”. However, this yearning for the past collides with concrete ambitions regarding the future: Mia is determined to land her first acting role in TV or film, while Sebastian is driven by the idea of owning a jazz club. The story undercuts egregious clichés by pitting realistic obstacles to Mia and Sebastian’s romance: life is a constant string of compromises, and achieving your goals may often mean giving up another dream in another life.

Source: Variety

It is easy to recognize the universal appeal of La La Land, what with its timeless love story fused with a charismatic cast. Emma Stone is particularly radiant as the spunky would-be actress Mia, whose mercurial expressions constantly teeter between the comedic and the tragic. Ryan Gosling is also strong as the initially off-puttish Sebastian, whose tough-jazz-guy demeanor reveals a passionate and caring soul – the kind of grumpy nice guy everyone ends up liking. Justin Hurwitz’s pop-jazz score hits all the uplifting notes, and the main theme becomes a concrete motif during the highs and lows of Mia and Sebastian’s relationship. I’m not an expert, but I reckon the colorful and expertly choreographed dance/song routines will satiate most aficionados of the musical genre. And much like with Whiplash, Chazelle ends this movie with a stupendous scene that will undoubtedly leave moviegoers in a swirl of emotional delight. Do try and check this one out in the theatres for maximum effect.

4½ STARS (out of 5)