Simultaneously whimsical and melancholy, La La Land manages to weave a simple story of love and ambition in the most dazzling of ways. The film is an original musical with creative songs and cinema-specific choreography all designed to be shown in CinemaScope, an old fashioned widescreen lens series. Ultimately, it captures true romance in its ability to show how some emotions are too astounding to be put into mere words.
Director Damien Chazelle’s La La Land opens with bursts of color, blue sky, and a traffic jam where dancers spin across the highway and leap across cars in an unabashedly earnest opening musical number. Immediately La La Land is a sensational experience; Chazelle works in long, unbroken takes, and continues this technique throughout the film. La La Land is set in an ethereal Los Angeles. Chazelle breaks up the film into seasons, depicting what seems to be L.A.’s annoyingly flawless weather throughout the year. For the duration of the film, that perfect combination of pink and purple evening sky seems to stretch into an eternity. Chazelle’s La La Land is immersive. It is captivating. Viewers will not be able to unravel themselves from its beauty until the screen fades to black.
“Another Day of Sun,” an optimistic opening number about how each new day brings another chance for wishful young artists in Los Angeles, introduces viewers to Mia, (Emma Stone) an ambitious yet forgetful aspiring actress, and Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), a struggling jazz pianist, both stuck in the traffic. Gosling and Stone are movie stars, and their charm and grace make this modern-day musical feel classic. They are no Rogers and Astaire, but they are able to communicate that same effortless fluidity in music and dance that harkens back to an older day and age.
Stone and Gosling are by no means professional singers or dancers; however, both actors deliver so much commitment and character to Mia and Seb that they are both utterly compelling despite their lack of traditional musical training. The emotional depth they bring to their characters is both actors at their best. Stone and Gosling’s chemistry is electric. After a few awkward half-encounters and playfully jabbing fun at each other’s flaws, Mia and Seb find themselves searching for Mia’s car on a pathway illuminated by the setting sun. They find commonality in their mutual struggles to achieve their dreams. Mia has attended countless auditions without a single callback. Seb, a disciple of classic jazz, has been reduced to playing Christmas carols at local bars. Even as Seb complains that such a beautiful night is wasted on the two of them, their attraction is instant, and the ensuing dance shows Mia and Seb falling in love.
Despite the sweet romance between Mia and Seb, the film’s true message lies in the tension between love and pursuing one’s dreams and the melancholy reality that it might not be possible to have both. La La Land exhibits how easily one’s dreams can be derailed, and how love can sometimes mean sacrificing a relationship in exchange for encouraging a lover to pursue their dreams. Although the film falls short of the perfect boy-meets-girl story, its underlying message will ring true for many in this day and age.
La La Land is pure magic. A scene in which Mia and Seb waltz among the stars in the observatory might be one of the most mesmerizing few minutes of film this year. Epilogues can oftentimes feel cheesy or forced, but the film’s final twenty minutes are exquisite and intangible, giving just a wistful glimpse at the love that could have been. La La Land has managed to grasp the sublime; it is utterly enchanting and allows viewers to live in “La La Land,” even if only for a moment.