La La Land (2016)
They worship everything and they value nothing.
Every so often you watch a film that really sticks with you, and blows you away on all fronts. Seeing La La Land with my wife I was struck with how…beautiful this film was. Damien Chazelle has once again hit it out of the park with a story of love and jazz set in L.A., starring Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, and featuring John Legend and J.K. Simmons. Following on from Whiplash (2014), an intense and exhilarating exploration of a conservatorium drummer and his abusive jazz teacher, La La Land treads a more positive path, following a jazz pianist and actress, both struggling to make it in their respective fields and still remain authentic and passionate, who fall in love with each other.
Like Whiplash, La La Land is a visual and auditory feast. Chazelle’s obvious passion for jazz music shines through in both movies, and if you aren’t tapping or jigging along to the music you may have absolutely no soul. I found myself nodding my head in almost every scene, yes, yes, yes, for how well-crafted and thought out this film was, and every set and composition was dripping with vibrant colours and could have served as a painting if taken alone. Gosling and Stone had absolutely amazing chemistry, and you feel their conflict and love throughout the film, through to its bittersweet conclusion. Gosling is funny and charming as ever, and Stone is beautiful and vulnerable, passing as an aspiring actress in a way that Kirsten Dunst never could in her lifeless portrayal of Mary Jane Watson. The way these two characters inspire and push each other to follow their dreams is a story that almost anyone can relate to, perhaps especially artists who walk the line between being authentic and true to their art, and “selling out” to pay the bills.
There is also conflict and argument between the two, and interpersonal relationships are a prominent theme in the movie. There is a marked distance between Mia and her actor contemporaries, as she wades through the mire of fake personalities and superficiality in Hollywood, as well as a distance between Seb and the modern world, expectation and reality, moreso when he joins a high school friend’s band to pay the bills. As Seb goes on tour with The Messengers, led by John Legend, the distance grows between him and Mia, culminating in an argument that you may have had before with your wife or partner. They argue over a surprise dinner, and the discord in the argument is like a jazz musician missing notes, when the band isn’t clicking and the music isn’t flowing. Each instance of ineffective communication, of missed feelings and mistaken meanings, is underlined by the jazz record playing in the background, which abruptly halts when the argument is over and a fire alarm sounds.
One of the stand-out parts of the movie was where Sebastian, Gosling’s character, tried to explain his passion for jazz and why it is so great to Mia, Stone’s character, who is a self-professed jazz hater. I felt as though it was a really great explanation of why the way jazz is the way it is, and it was as though Chazelle was speaking through his character. The musical numbers make this film, they are grand and intimate at the same time, and so well put together and choreographed, there is so much to see. It takes one back to the golden age of Hollywood, and Singin’ in the Rain and My Fair Lady, Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds, Audrey Hepburn, and Rex Harrison, and the closing spotlight scene transitions and the focus on the Art Deco architecture of L.A. drive that home and leave you feeling good inside.
This film lives up to the hype in every way possible. Chazelle is now two for two, and if he can continue this engaging and inspiring exploration of jazz and his unique characterisations and use of colour, I believe he will be recognized as a great auteur of our time. Please, go out and see La La Land, feel the music run in your veins and in your mind long after the film has ended, and dare to dream.