Hollywood’s latest hype, an old-fashioned song-and-dance musical with the dreamy name “La La Land,” has taken the cinematic world by surprise, simply for the fact that it’s the most traditional musical adaptation that the world has seen in recent years. The film swept the Golden Globes, picking up seven different awards, including Best Director of a Motion Picture and Best Motion Picture for a Musical or Comedy.
“La La Land,” directed by Damien Chazelle, is set in Los Angeles, yet immerses the audience into the city and characters’ fascination with the music and movie stars of the age of jazz. The plot centers around Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), a jazz pianist with a desire to make jazz popular again and Mia (Emma Stone), an aspiring actress and playwright who is struggling to make it big in Hollywood while working as a barista on the side.
The two find themselves stuck in a traffic jam on a Los Angeles highway at the beginning of the movie, the same jam that was host to the movie’s unconventional opening sequence. What can be most closely coined as a flash mob, the opening sequence entails members of each car climbing out and joining in a musical number, replacing the negative aura of a traffic jam with the joyous atmosphere that follows a musical production.
After their initial encounter, Mia and Sebastian encounter one another on several occasions, one being at a Hollywood poolside party, which ends in the two tap dancing beside a breathtaking sunrise, ironically singing about how they’re wasting such a gorgeous moment on someone they don’t love; ironic because it is the moment that sends the pair into a passionate but eventually heart-wrenching love affair.
The passionate romance that develops between Sebastian and Mia results in the two becoming invested in each other’s goals of their musical and acting careers, respectively, introducing the film’s other theme of Hollywood as the “City of Dreams.” Mia helps Sebastian begin planning the logistics of his jazz club, a dream he’s had his whole life, while Sebastian persistently encourages Mia to write a play of her own where she’s able to cast herself as the lead actress.
However, with dreams as big as theirs, the pair soon realize that their agendas would take them in different directions, ushering in the classic conflict between following one’s dreams or romantic interests. This conflict reaches its peak when Mia receives an exciting role that would send her to Paris and thus taking her away from her life with Sebastian, and Sebastian and Mia’s relationship becomes increasingly difficult to reconcile. After literally waltzing amongst the stars halfway through the film, the couple’s only way is down.
Throughout the movie, it’s obvious that Stone and Gosling have worked together on other projects, such as “Crazy, Stupid, Love” and “Gangster Squad,” that have put the two in a romantic climate. Both stars seemed to be perfectly attuned to each other’s pace and flow, not just in their acting abilities, but in their dance numbers as well.
Furthermore, Chazelle transforms the romance between Mia and Sebastian into one that isn’t commonly seen in films nowadays. While most contemporary romantic movies involve at least one sex scene, Mia and Sebastian are never seen engaging in such activities, in fact, the pair rarely touch each other during their dance numbers and kiss somewhat infrequently throughout the movie. Despite this, Chazelle is able to depict the romantic nature of their relationship through the way the two interact through song and dance.
Perhaps as a way of embracing the romance between Mia and Sebastian, Chazelle plays with realism throughout the film, shifting from the recognizable present day into a full-blown fantasy as a means of encapsulating the dreamy quality of Mia and Sebastians love affair and the movie’s theme of achieving one’s dreams and aspirations in Hollywood.
As “La La Land” falls under the genre of a romantic musical, it’s impossible not to mention the musical numbers, composed by Justin Hurwitz and featuring John Legend, as well as Stone and Gosling themselves. Some of these numbers include “Another Day of Sun,” which serves as the film’s opening number. The cheerful and melodic quality of this piece removes people from the negative demeanor of the traffic jam they’re stuck in and elevates them into joyous song and dance.
Another notable number is Gosling and Stone’s first duo of the movie, where the two tap dance as they watch the sun rise to the song “A Lovely Night,” giving the audience an upbeat piece that will make them want to get on their feet and dance themselves. Finally, perhaps the film’s most popular number and the winner of Best Original Song at this year’s Golden Globes, “City of Stars,” gave the audience a slower, primarily piano-based tune to enjoy. This song further added to the movie’s dreamy allure and resurfaced at several points throughout the film to remind the viewer of each character’s big dreams and aspirations.
The catchy musical numbers throughout “La La Land” will have the audience singing and dancing along, and it’s romantic allure will leave the viewer wondering whether love or dreams and aspirations will prevail in the end.