Coming off the acclaimed Whiplash, Damien Chazelle is back with another film that has already started stirring itself into awards consideration. La La Land is a modern day musical with Los Angeles serving as the backdrop through the four seasons of the year.Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone reunite for the third time, this time portraying characters stuck in a career stalemate. Gosling plays Sebastian, the traditional jazz enthusiast who worries about the state of the genre and his hesitancy to change. Stone plays Mia, a determined but frustrated aspiring actress working as an on-studio barista to pay the bills. During the course of its 128 minute runtime, we watch these characters develop both professionally and personally together. As months go by they must decide what is most important to them, even if it does have consequences.
Chazelle takes inspiration from old time Hollywood as he throws out easter eggs left and right, referencing classics like Casablanca and Rebel Without a Cause. In an era where musicals are almost non-existent, Chazelle pays homage while still adding his own flare. The film begins with a remarkable sequence of events as the camera weaves through the Los Angeles traffic, the impatient drivers and passengers have an answer to the freeway frenzy, busting out into song and dance. The 31 year old director sets the tone from the opening scene and makes the most with what he has to work with. The track list features a mix of catchy and somber tunes that has helped the soundtrack skyrocket on the charts as the music has clearly resonated with audiences.
What makes La La Land work is the convincing performances from Gosling and Stone. Often this film has moments of drama and charm which both thrive at, it’s when they break into a musical number that their brilliance is spotlighted. Sebastian and Mia aren’t supposed to be superstars when doing a routine. The modest singing and dancing between the two make it more relatable for the viewer as it becomes a more genuine tale. Having played lovers in Crazy, Stupid, Love and Gangster Squad makes the transition for Gosling and Stone in La La Land seamless. Seb and Mia are both likeable characters, committed to their respected art, but with flaws that restrict them from ever breaking through. The film highlights the compromise and consequences that these characters face, clarifying that not everything can be had. La La Land asks the question, if someone you loved and cared for was standing in the way of your dreams, what would you do?
Thanks to the lush cinematography from Linus Sandgren, Chazelle helps to romanticize the city of Los Angeles while still emphasizing the ongoing stigma of Hollywood, rejection. Nothing in La La Land is sugar coated, even when there is conflict Chazelle and co find a way to reach out to the audience and let them know that it’s for the best. Currently the favourite to clean up during award season, La La Land benefits from having a mature 31 year old at the helm, knowing not to fall into the Nicholas Sparks cliché. As we reach the dog days of winter, take the time to see this film and you’ll be sure to leave the theater with a smile.