“La La Land” is a film that pays tribute to classic Hollywood age musicals in a modern setting. The film starts off with Mia (Emma Stone), an aspiring actress living in the busy city of Los Angeles, struggling to keep her dream alive as each audition she tries out for fail to impress the casting crew. She then bumps into Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), an overly passionate jazz pianist who wishes to open his own jazz club. The two start a relationship and help each other pursue their dreams. However, when Sebastian joins a band with his old high school classmate Keith (John Legend) and Mia writes and stars in her own play, they learn that sometimes you can’t get everything you want.
Writer and director Damien Chazelle presents a film so visually and audibly astonishing that’s so full of life there’s no way that the film won’t walk away with a few Academy Awards. He has come a long way since his last film, “Whiplash.” Not only in pacing and writing, but with his eye for production value. Chazelle’s vision makes for many memorable scenes, like the film’s opening musical sequence, “Another Day of Sun,” on a busy Los Angeles freeway and a montage near the end of the film that will emotionally punch you in the gut. It also helps that in an era of films where most colors are washed out and dull, “La La Land” isn’t afraid of allowing the colors to pop off the screen.
The throwbacks to classic ‘40s and ‘50s studio productions make the film a bit more fun for those who get the reference. The film opens with a Filmed in Cinemascope logo and old-fashioned title cards with the year of release in roman numerals placed below the main title. The film’s dance scenes are shot with wide shots that go for one long take, allowing the viewer to better appreciate the work that went into the choreography.
Normally with musicals, they can sometimes come across as awkward to non-fans as the musical numbers can feel random and unearned. This was something Chazelle and composer Justin Hurwitz were very careful about. When the singing starts, it feels natural. The songs that will be stuck in your head (in a good way) are “Audition” and “Start a Fire.”
Stone delivers one of her best performances as an ambitious actress trying to get a lucky break. She has a natural ability to make her characters feel alive. The scene where she sings “Audition” is so good, there’s no denying that this moment will define her career.
Gosling, typically seen as playing the pretty boy, gives yet another strong performance, like “Drive” and “Lars and the Real Girl.” Not only does he perfect his piano playing, dancing, and singing, he also makes his character relatable. The scene where his acting shines is a moment with Stone, where he tries to get her character to see jazz the way he sees it by taking her to a jazz club and explains to her all the different parts that go into a performance. Both characters also continue Chazelle’s tradition of flawed protagonists letting their goals cloud their perception of what consequences arise.
“La La Land” is a film that should impress viewers, even those who don’t like musicals. The film never gets lost with its style and has more heart than most other films in recent memory. And good luck trying not to whistle the tune of “City of Stars” as you walk out of the theater lobby.