La La Land (Damien Chazelle, 2016)

la-la-land5From streaming to the big screen, I’m watching a lot of films these days. I try to keep up with new releases as well as going back to oldies that I can’t believe I’ve missed. Luckily enough, I’m pursuing a profession where watching films serves as research!

But the more research I take in, the more I feel that I need to put something out into the world. That may be through a written review, or a video. This week, I launched a YouTube channel. Every week, I will review a film, from any time in the last century or any country. Below is my first video in which I review the Golden Globe winner La La Land. After shooting it, I noticed that the end of my review didn’t get recorded. This is why I wanted to put it all down in writing, and actually conclude the review! Here it goes. And thank you to those who will take the time to watch!

La La Land is a brand new musical written by Damien Chazelle and with music composed by Justin Hurwitz. It’s about two young artists in Los Angeles pursuing their dreams and falling in love in the process. Mia (Emma Stone) is an actress going to audition after audition and suffering from a lot of rejection. She meets Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), a jazz pianist who dreams of owning and living in his own jazz club. In fact, he refuses to unpack his boxes in his small apartment for that reason.

The sun is shining, colours are amplified, it’s L.A.! The film opens with dancers and singers stepping out of their individual cars on a busy highway to jump around and celebrate the sunshine and where this new day will lead them. Mia actually encounters Sebastian in this traffic jam, again a few days later in a restaurant, and again at a party where he is playing pop in a cover band. Their first moment alone is a joy, as they walk on a hill overlooking the city lights. It is dusk, the sky is purple, and their feelings translate into tap dance. In fact, as their love for each other grows, we never hear the actual word “love”, as songs, looks and movements are enough to convey it. Only at the very end of the film did I notice this, as I heard the word spoken by Mia for the first time.

The spoken dialogue and music are beautifully balanced in this film. Moments never become cringe worthy due to nothing being too elevated, strong or loud. It’s down to earth all the while embracing song.

I’m sure I’m not the only one – I’ve been humming the music of La La Land since I saw it last week. How do I stop? I would just add that I would have liked to watch a jazz performance headed by John Legend that was not taken over by electronics and background dancers.

The cinematography by Linus Sandgren is a treat, with a choice of gorgeous colours like purple, blue, yellow, and lights that bring out the romantic side of Los Angeles. The scenes at dusk are magical. There are also long tracking shots, especially when not wanting to interrupt a song. This makes for a warm feeling but can also make you dizzy. In fact, blurriness comes into play at some more vulnerable or hectic moments, to highlight the characters’ constant struggle. How do you stay calm in a world that doesn’t stop, especially in the city of show business?

The two actors at the centre of the story have great chemistry. The scene of their argument as Sebastian comes back from the first part of his music tour is harsh and very real – I wonder whether they improvised here and just let the words flow. You can sense Stone and Gosling truly playing with and teasing each other, which makes for surprises and laughs! This was for me perhaps the surprise of La La Land: how funny it was, between Mia’s reaction to rude casting directors and Sebastian’s stubborn love for traditional jazz. These laughs all come from the heart, from the truth of these characters.

The lovely JK Simmons also has three minutes in the film and even performs a dance step! His role in Whiplash just propelled him to that level where even with a few minutes of screen time, he steals the show – or, the scene!

To conclude, what I take away from this film is that you can dance through life. It will be hard, people won’t believe in you, will laugh at your dreams and moves, but if it’s you who is making the choice of dancing, nothing from the outside can really get in the way.

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