La La Land (2016) Movie Review
La La Land is a spectacle of nostalgia and romance.
La La Land opens in an ordinary Los Angeles traffic jam: the relentless honking of cars, the unbroken line of vehicles, and the scorching heat of the sun. Ordinary, that is, until someone starts singing. In one, long take, the film escapes itself from the mundane realities of these people and establishes the tone of a movie musical, lush with dancing and virtuosic vocals. It then introduces Mia (Emma Stone), an aspiring actress, and Seb (Ryan Gosling), a jazz pianist. The two meet, fall in love, and then encounter hardships as their journeys cause tension in a place where dreams don’t always come true.
I love musicals. Not that I am one for singing, but musicals have taught me that sometimes emotion can be so powerful that it can’t just be said in mere words—it must be sung. Love can, at times, feel overwhelming that one just has to sing or to dance in order to exhibit the ascendancy this feeling can have over one’s entirety. Characters in musicals understand love differently than in traditional films because they turn their feelings into art—singing, dancing, and transcending dialogue into something purer that may resemble something as great as true romance.
This film is no exception. It excels in bringing the magic out of the mundane, the extraordinary out of the ordinary. The result is charming and lovely. Its two hours fly by effortlessly, transporting the viewer into another dimension. It is set in the present, but its aesthetics and cinematography are taken from the past. The film is noticeably more vibrant, embellishing the muted palettes of modern Hollywood with the Technicolor art way back during the early stages of filmmaking. La La Land is not a film that aspires for novelty. In fact, the entire film is brimming with nostalgia, sharing the knowledge that its existence is a sensational mix of films and music that are decades past.
Nostalgia isn’t just used as an artifice here. It is added to the personalities of the two lovers who daydream of the past yet are uncertain of their future. Mia fills her room with posters of classic films. Seb is intent on saving traditional jazz from being derailed by modernity. They are unabashed romantics living in their own la la land, where artistic passion is highlighted through the music. Stone and Gosling may not be natural singers nor dancers, but it is through the imperfections in their technique that gives this film its humanity. The odd note here and there gives the musical its texture, the idea that their fantasies are indefensible.
It is easy to get derailed sometimes, especially when one is going against the grain. It is easy to think that dreams don’t come true, and that true love only exists in films. La La Land serves to remind the viewer that movies can still be magical, and that each person can see the magic in a world that isn’t always kind or giving. The film revels in dreams, the ones that cause us to wake up and to keep going no matter what the cost, those that keep us up and dancing on our feet.
Watched January 2017