And now we get to the head contender for the Best Picture Award. Since winning the People’s Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival, La La Land come out of nowhere to become a beloved darling for critics and audiences alike. With its stunning visuals, catchy jazz numbers and engaging storytelling, it’s not hard to see why. Plus, with all the bad things that happened last year, now is the good time for a colourful, vibrant musical. Who better to deliver it than Damien Chazelle, the writer/director of the modern masterpiece Whiplash.
In modern Los Angeles cross the paths of two struggling artists. Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) is a Jazz pianist obsessed with vintage Jazz styles. Mia (Emma Stone) is a struggling actress running through auditions between shifts at a studio coffee shop. Though their attempts to get ahead and/or forget about their problems, they keep bumping into each other. Of course, they got through the same song and dance of first hating each other only to eventually fall in love. They start inspiring each other to go further. Sebastian encourages Mia to write a one woman show, while Mia encourages Sebastian to reach his dream of opening a Jazz bar. But they find their both their dreams and relationship tested when one achieves success while the other deals with crushing failure.
From the moment you see the classic Cinemascope logo, you know the director loves the classic. You can feel Chazelle’s love for film classics and Jazz music through every second of the film. Mia and Sebastian bond through their love of classic films, especially Rebel Without a Cause. Sebastian also has a strong passion for Jazz, which he demonstrates to Mia through his commentary of a band’s improvisational performance. He also sneaks in some references for both film classics and Jazz music, from Mia’s Ingrid Bergman wallpaper to Sebastian’s Cab Calloway hairstyle.
At first, it seems like this film’s going to follow the classic romance formula. But Chazelle subverts the formula every chance he gets. You’ve seen romantic leads start off hating each other at first, but rarely does the first encounter involve the girl flipping the guy off. It doesn’t help that Sebastian is a bit of a jerk. There’s also a moment where you expect them to finally get together, but the film pulls the rug from underneath you. In fact, this film plays a lot with your expectations, often having a scene seem to look one way but then turn another way. A scene will have them having a romantic night at the movies, only for the film to burn up midway. Another scene will look like Mia’s delivering a personal monologue, only for it to turn out she’s rehearsing a line.
But at the film’s core is the overwhelming struggles of Sebastian and Mia. Sebastian’s inability to compromise for his music often puts him out of work, leading to unpaid bills. Mia competes against dozens of pretty actresses in audition after audition, only to face rejection after rejection by indifferent casting directors. At least she’s living with supportive friends. The odds are very stacked against them, as it is with many artists. What keeps them going is their passion for their craft, which helps them bond with each other.
La La Land is a stunning love letter to the musical genre that both celebrates artists following their dreams and faces up to the price they pay in the process. Every musical number brings out the beauty of Los Angeles, with graceful choreography by Mandy Moore (not that Mandy Moore). Whether their floating atop a planetarium or debating over Jazz, Gosling and Stone play off each other beautifully, each graceful on their feet and decent in their voices. With each film he makes, Chazelle is starting to become one of my all-time favourite directors. From now on, I will be anticipating his films with great excitement.
 One of my all-time favourite movies.
 Literally and figuratively
 Usually they don’t start with the girl flipping off the boy.
 A type of lens that allowed filmmakers to shoot widescreen.