La La Land is Damien Chazelle’s third film, and is nothing short of an audio-visual masterpiece. It follows the story of two individuals, Mia (Emma Stone) and Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) living in LA, both of whom have respective ambitions of becoming a Hollywood actress and a Jazz bar owner. The pair meet and fall in love, and we are given the privilege of watching their relationship and their journey as their aspirations proceed to unfold. The film is beautifully nostalgic as it plays homage to movies and musicals of the 1930s, 40s, and 50s, all the while situating itself in a contemporary timeframe.
Because the film has such a simple narrative, it leaves room for everything else, such as stylistics and character development. La La Land has a straight forward, and for the most part, linear structure, but still manages to produce stunningly constructed surrealist sequences. Although it is a film about ordinary people, its dreamlike moments bring the film to life, establishing itself as the exceptionally distinctive masterpiece it truly is. It is completely self-aware, making the viewer mindful of the abundant and highly stylised shots, while still allowing them to be engrossed in the film’s narrative.
Since La La Land is a musical, there can often be a fundamental expectation that the voices from the cast would be up to a Broadway-style standard. This isn’t the case with this film. La La Land is a film that is first and foremost about real people. Neither Stone nor Gosling’s singing or dancing is particularly outstanding and neither is the ensemble’s. But that is precisely what makes this film authentic, as the cast are emulating ordinary people. The instrumentations in the songs, particularly in the opening number, are also very effective and are what make the songs unique to other movie musicals that have preceded it.
Stone and Gosling have palpable on-screen chemistry, making Mia and Sebastian’s relationship completely credible. Gosling’s piano-playing is superb and Stone’s final audition scene is just as intense as it is powerful. La La Land focuses on the individuals just as much as- if not more than- their relationship throughout the course of the film. We can see that they are their own people with their own ambitions and dreams. The character developments of both Mia and Sebastian are the driving force of the development of their relationship and how it is primarily based around reminding one another of their dreams when they inevitably lose their way.
The film’s subtle details are what establish it as a piece of art. Something as seemingly insignificant as the fact that it is shown in cinemascope means that it maintains the Classical Hollywood atmosphere throughout. The camerawork is utterly masterful and the subtle uses of colour produce something that isn’t subtle at all; something that immerses the spectator in the entire world of the film. The kiss sequence in the observatory is shot just as it would be in a Classical Hollywood romantic film. The small detail of the wide angle shot outside The Lighthouse Café correlates with the subtle development in Mia and Sebastian’s relationship as they take it in turns to look back at one another. The montage epilogue at the end of the film exudes emotion right up until its final moment. The entire final scene is next to perfection as it doesn’t lose its focus on the main theme of two people following their dreams, while maintaining a certain level of realism.
There are very few criticisms I would have with this film, but I will address one in particular that has been pointed out to me a few times. Some assert that La La Land isn’t a feminist film. However, I am inclined to disagree. Without disclosing too much, Mia is a far more developed character by the film’s conclusion. We see much more of her success than Sebastian’s, and it is evident that she is the overriding protagonist. Additionally, she has more to overcome than Sebastian, as emphasised by her one woman show, as well as her countless gruelling auditions. When we compare this to Sebastian’s opportunity to play in Keith’s band (which essentially falls into his lap), Mia is indisputably the stronger character.
The overall theme or message of the film could be interpreted in multiple ways, but one that is particularly prevalent is the theme of two individuals helping each other to fulfil their separate dreams at a time when dreaming is considered foolish and unrealistic. It isn’t just a romantic film; it is a film for anyone who has ever had dreams or aspirations. It is a film for anyone who loves nostalgia. It is a film that aims to spark creative inspiration in every viewer, and a film that deserves every award nomination that has come its way. Anna Ní Chiaruáin
Director: Damien Chazelle