At first I was super confused; I thought La La Land was an old Hollywood throwback. The kind of throwback with Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire where someone says, “Well gee, Johnny, it’s getting awful late…” But in La La Land’s first scene we have a dance number on the highway with modern (albeit pre-sunroof optional) cars. I became even more confused when I realized that this really is an old-Hollywood throwback, just updated with smartphones and key fobs. Eventually the rhythm fell into place and I was swept away into the silver screen by the hypnotizing depths of Emma Stone’s impossibly huge eyes.
La La Land is the story of two struggling artists in Hollywood. Mia (Emma Stone) is a wannabe actress who plays a demoralized barista by day. She also tours the town in a variety of adorable dresses on par with Kate Middleton. Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) is an extremely talented jazz pianist who’s a pain in the ass to work with and – for some reason – can’t hold down a steady job. Both have big dreams in this city that’s a breeding ground for humiliation and fancy parties. Mia and Seb cross paths when his music draws her into a bar. The love story should start right there, but true to character, Seb is an ass and Mia is left hanging. Never fear, their paths cross again. And again. And… again. Mia and Sebastian click, and they hold hands for a year while each tries to make it in their respective field of dreams. But when one finds more success than the other, the harmonious scene becomes a little unscripted.
We’ve got ourselves a musical! Not quite on par with overwhelming productions like Les Miserables or Chicago, but La La Land feels naturally casual. Seb sings because he’s a musician, and Mia sings because there’s no better way to communicate what she means. The whole movie has the aura of a staged production, with random explosions of song and spotlights on demand. The music and dancing give the film an overall smooth feeling, like romance in the park. This is what convinced me that La La Land is, indeed, an old-Hollywood style throwback fit for today’s fashions and eco-friendly Toyotas.
I greatly respect the prep work that went into Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling’s characters. Stone can sing! She’s no Jennifer Hudson – a little more Cinderella – but she can sing! Similarly, it really wasn’t a surprise that Gosling can dance. He was born a smooth, shirt-sleeve-rolling, lean-on-things kind of guy. Strapping tap shoes to those feet was a natural, evolutionary step on par with putting Frank Sinatra in a fedora. Gosling keeps surprising me as that bizarre offspring of Cornwall, Ontario: the land famous for its pulp and paper production.
While Stone may not be quite as smooth on the dance floor, I was hella impressed with her ability to fake it. Glide, Emma! Glide! She and Gosling have a very special on-screen relationship that’s highlighted all the more with Stone as the smooth singer and Gosling as the brilliant piano accompaniment. You can’t deny that the two have chemistry. They’ve played couples in the past (Crazy, Stupid Love, for one unforgettable reference) and the show does not get old. I cheered for them before they were even cheering for themselves. The romance between Sebastian and Mia is effortlessly golden and dreamlike, but not without its ups and downs. Their chemistry is the first reason I would recommend La La Land.
The second reason is for the cinematography. The shots feel very narrow, but purposefully so, like everything was built to fit on a sound stage. The neon lights, the empty streets, and the perfectly arranged messy room all feels deliberately designed to be casual and put the focus back on the characters. This is definitely not The Revenant. Mia and Seb are often the only moving pieces in scenes that are set up like paintings. The costumes have a similar effect, with a high focus on primary colours and straight cut suits. Get the distracting patterns out of the way and give me more theatrical character building.
La La Land is romantic and sweet, but I enjoyed the last ten minutes more than the rest of the film as a whole. The last bit speeds past all the drama and the humiliation to spotlight on Mia and Sebastian’s time together. While the stuff that comes before is a little slow, this last sequence flies by and constructs a feeling of happiness mixed with wistful regret. But the neatest part is that it all revolves around a song. Their song. It’s a simple piece that draws Mia to Seb in the first place, and one that keeps bringing them back together over and over again. The music doesn’t solve their problems, but it makes their problems a little less loud. It’s like a secret moment between Mia and Seb that turns a crowded room into a private affair. It’s a very special concept that is unique to this couple – like a tinfoil engagement ring. La La Land is happy but sad, tiptoeing along the line between love and dreams. It’s a special movie that I would spotlight under an 8/10.