“Here’s to the fools who dream.”
We’re all reliant on our dreams, whether they are big or small. We set ourselves up for achieving what we want most. And along the way, we encounter risk, reward, sacrifice, emotion, and what it means to live. Director Damien Chazelle (Whiplash) exemplifies all of these in La La Land, a musical about two people who cross paths and fall in love while they both aspire to be somebody in the City of Angels. They certainly don’t make movies like La La Land anymore, which is understandable considering how hard they are to pull off in this day and age. But La La Land feels like something brought back from the old Hollywood for a new generation to appreciate. Set to the beat of a startlingly vibrant musical tone, La La Land is a masterwork in showing us what it means to follow our dreams.
Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) and Mia (Emma Stone) are drawn together by their common desire to do what they love. But as success mounts they are faced with decisions that begin to fray the fragile fabric of their love affair, and the dreams they worked so hard to maintain in each other threaten to rip them apart.
Right from the get-go, you get a sense of how much the city of Los Angeles itself is a pivotal secondary character in La La Land. In the opening pre-credits sequence, we see 100-plus extras singing and dancing on a highway overlooking Los Angeles. La La Land shows us this city built on dreams and that’s where we first meet our two main characters looking for their moment to shine. Ryan Gosling (Drive) plays Sebastian Wilder, a skilled pianist who wants to keep jazz alive and open up his own jazz club. Emma Stone (Easy A) plays Mia Dolan, an aspiring actress looking for her big break after being turned down time and time again by various casting agencies. At first, it’s quite comical when the two characters come into contact with each other throughout the first act. But once things get moving, the characters fall in love with each other and stop coincidentally appearing in the same place at the same time. Then La La Land takes us on a sensationally amazing journey with all the roller coaster emotions that put love and dream chasing to the test.
Ryan Gosling is prototypical here in La La Land, which is fine given his instant charm and the comedic moments he provides in just about everything in which he appears. The laughs we get from Gosling’s character in La La Land come in large part from how he perceives the world of jazz, which he shows whenever we see him express, sometimes on piano, how much he hates not playing the genre he loves most more often. He practically swims against the current musical culture that seems to prefer electronic dance music. While Gosling is great, it’s Emma Stone (and her voice) who stands out in La La Land as she gives a career-best performance. Stone’s character is sincere, but determined to do what is necessary in order to be seen outside the coffee shop on a movie studio lot where she works. Stone’s voice never lets us down no matter how many times we see her character sing about her aspirations. And one song in particular is sure to stick with you long after the movie is over and it is all but guaranteed to win Best Original Song at the Oscars.
Speaking of music, composer Justin Hurwitz’s songs and score are the heart and soul of La La Land. Music and dance routines are choreographed with skill and care as we’re taken throughout numerous locations in Los Angeles. La La Land’s soundtrack doesn’t miss a beat and will almost surely be the best movie soundtrack of the year as well as being one of the best albums released in 2016. Not one tone of one song really stands out from the others; it feels like it’s all meshed together into one indelibly irresistible music note that keeps turning the page, offering something new and fresh along the way. Along with the music of La La Land, everything else from a technical standpoint syncs together with the movie’s musical beat with near spot-on perfection (especially sound editing and mixing). Linus Sandgren’s cinematography is outstanding, as we follow the camera through each tune while taking in the sights and sounds that are edited with precision. The best shots in La La Land take place whenever the movie stops for a second to focus on either of the main characters, with lighting playing a key role to show us it’s time for them to take the stage in the moments they feel lonely and vulnerable.
Even for someone who is not a fan of musicals, it’s difficult to keep from being drawn into La La Land and it’s sweeping musical beat throughout the course of its two hours. What director Chazelle has done is nothing short of incredible and will surely garner much attention in the months leading up to awards time. La La Land isn’t just a love letter to Hollywood, but a profound, soaring tune that reminds you of what it means to see those dreams pursued no matter how, “foolish they may seem.” But on the flip side, haven’t we all been fools at some point in our lives in the pursuit of our dreams?