My Rating: 7 out of 10
I had a lot of difficulty deciding upon a rating for La La Land. Emotionally, the film was both uplifting and very sad. From an artistic and cinematographic standpoint, it was a bit chaotic, while still being highly imaginative and thought-out. The story was pretty straightforward, but managed to surprise me. Though there were certain aspects and scenes that I loved, overall, I would say that I liked the movie, but didn’t love it. The film did all the right things needed to tell its story. I was impressed, but not totally blown away. My main reason for going to see La La Land was because it will likely be an Oscar contender. Plus, I really enjoy Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone.
The story told in La La Land is a simple one that most of us have seen before: a love story between two down-on-their-luck, aspiring artists in Hollywood. Emma Stone plays Mia, an would-be actress hoping to find her big break. Ryan Gosling plays Sebastian, a jazz pianist with a dream to open his own club, who has trouble keeping a steady job. After a couple of chance encounters, the two develop a romance and eventually begin to help each other strive for their respective dreams. However, as they both progress artistically, it becomes apparent that they will need to sacrifice either their relationship or their ambitions.
The power of the story lies in the truth behind it. The characters and their relationship with one another are very realistic. The two have chemistry, but are both flawed and self-centered. Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling did an incredible job of bringing the two leads to life. You know that the actors you are watching are doing a good job when you see them completely as their characters despite being familiar with their work. Ryan completely sold the idea that he was an incredible jazz pianist, despite the fact that he learned how to play the piano for this film. Emma’s performance was highly realistic and full of emotion, even if she wasn’t always the most likable character. Her audition scenes were powerful and made me really appreciate what actors do.
Aside from the realistic characters, I found the film relatable because of the theme of following one’s dreams and fighting for one’s artistic ambition when most people don’t understand. Like the story itself, this theme isn’t exactly groundbreaking. Still, it is a highly relatable subject that was explored in a different way. Striving for an artistic dream is extremely difficult and can completely absorb you. It’s also something that can change the sort of person you are and how you interact with other people (like it did to Mia in the end of the film). This makes it hard for you to find room in your heart for a romantic relationship, which I think was true of Sebastian. Despite the difficulty of balancing love and art, La La Land shows that the right person can become a catalyst that motivates you and pushes you towards your dreams.
On the other hand, the film also doesn’t shy away from the difficult reality that love and artistic dreams can occasionally be at odds with one another. Sometimes, love can spur you to achieve what you want, but, other times, it may get in your way and cause you to compromise your artistic integrity to be with the person you care about. Sebastian made the choice to tour with John Legend’s electro-jazz band so that he could have a steady job and be with Mia. However, by doing so, it damaged his relationship since he was no longer the same passionate person that Mia fell in love with in the first place. The film also explores the conundrum of how you can achieve your dreams, but if you have no one to share that accomplishment with, then you may still feel empty. In the end, you can work hard and achieve an ambition, but no matter what you do, you cannot always win someone’s heart. The whole idea of balancing one’s dreams and relationships is something that resonated with me deeply and I feel is something that every artistically-minded person thinks about.
One of my favorite quotes from the film was something like: “people care about the things that other people are passionate about.” I think this sums up the reason why people are attracted to others with strong dreams, both romantically and admiringly. The reason that people enjoy a film like La La Land is also because of this attraction. We like to see people strive for the things they care about since it is a basic human drive. We all want certain things out of life, it is one of the things that connects us all. However, in a movie, the stakes are less personal and we can explore the negative side of following our ambitions without actually having to suffer the consequences of difficult decisions. Like jazz, life isn’t structured, but is about chaos, collaboration, and vision.
For someone who is not that interested in jazz, I was impressed by how the filmmakers incorporated the music into the story and into the film itself. Jazz is integral to the story, but is also utilized to illicit specific emotions throughout, especially the repeated piece. Sebastian’s explanation of what jazz is and why he loves it so much was powerful and made me appreciate the style. I really understood his desire to keep the art form that he loved alive and to share it with future generations. I feel like we all have things that we loved in our childhood that changed or became less appreciated by the majority of people when we got older.
To continue on the topic of music, the songs all worked when they appeared in the story and didn’t break up the flow of the film. Still, the most powerful and emotional piece of music in the entirety of La La Land was definitely the repeated jazz piece played by Sebastian. My girlfriend was disappointed by the actors’ singing abilities, but I couldn’t really notice to be honest. While the film is considered a musical, I’m not sure I would really classify it as one. There are plenty of songs that the leads break into during the course of the film, but it is far fewer than a typical musical. Most of the time, they are just speaking normally. I think the amount of music included was just right to give the audience the feeling that they are drifting between a dream and reality.
This notion of shifting from fantasy to reality is one that is woven into every part of the film. There are numerous scenes that incorporate magical realism, while many scenes are straightforward. In this way, La La Land reminded me of Birdman. I think the most powerful use of this presentation was during the ending when we get to see reality and then experience Mia’s fantasy ending. This sequence was done perfectly and really gave the movie a strong (if not sad) conclusion. While the experimental style was a bit random at times and the beginning of the film made me concerned that I wouldn’t be able to get into it, I found myself very impressed and moved by La La Land.
I definitely recommend La La Land to anyone who enjoys art and is moved by people pursuing their dreams. The film is deftly crafted and the setting is beautiful, plus it is a nice treat as it is a completely original story not based off a book or person. Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling are excellent in their respectively roles and the experimental style made me feel like I was entering a dream world. Fans of musicals might be disappointed though since it is not a typical musical. The musical element of the movie takes less precedent than other elements. Overall, not my favorite movie of the year, but definitely enjoyable and worth seeing. It would be just as good on a small screen, though seeing it in the theatre would allow you to better appreciate the gorgeous backgrounds and sunsets.