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Photo: ‘La La Land’/Lionsgate
Compared to musicals of the last decade, ‘La La Land’ is one like no other. Directed by Damien Chazelle, this romantic comedy-drama sets itself apart with its beautiful story and Chazelle’s love for past musicals. The story goes like this: An actor and a jazz pianist, Mia (Emma Stone) and Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), are both looking for their next big break in the starry-eyed city of Los Angeles. They meet and fall in love, but their new romance is threatened by the dreams they aspire to chase. Together, they must find a way to stay together while trying to make it in LA.
This film has all one could possibly want from a musical: a good script, great lead actors, catchy songs, and dance numbers that look completely effortless. The aesthetic of ‘La La Land’ makes this musical feel completely different than anything that’s come out in the last few decades. Chazelle was inspired to make a musical just like those of the past, from the eras of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers or Gene Kelly. These influences are in full display here, with choreography and footwork reminiscent of Astaire/Rogers and musical numbers that could fit in on a film like ‘An American in Paris’. Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling are completely game, their chemistry between scenes and songs feeling seamless. They really do feel like an old Hollywood couple from the MGM era of musicals.
Less Experience = Real Performances
Chazelle’s decision to cast them might seem questionable, but ended up being a marvelous choice in the end; neither of them have much background in musicals. Their singing voices sound much more natural than that of a Broadway singer or someone with heavy experience in music. It truly makes the characters feel realistic, as if they really are normal people trying to make it big, rather than gifted singers.
For the roles of Mia, and Sebastian, Stone, and Gosling had to prepare extensively, both learning to sing and dance for their respective parts. Gosling specifically had to learn piano for authenticity and Stone worked with famous choreographer Mandy Moore to help reflect emotion into her movements. Their hard work was worth it in the long run, as we see them gracefully breeze through song and dance together in the streets of Los Angeles.
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Speaking of LA, the backdrop of the city is beautiful in its own way, and Chazelle makes sure to showcase it as much as he can in ‘La La Land’. From having a giant musical number on an expressway to tap dancing overlooking the city during golden hour, this film finds a beautiful way to showcase the city where dreams are made. It’s also a perfect example of youth, the idea of chasing dreams and going for it. Chazelle’s choice of older actors is a perfect contrast to the youthful inspiration the city yields, showing the audience that truly everybody is trying to make it in LA.
The Music is the Soul of ‘La La Land’
The most important aspect of a musical film is the music itself. In order to be a successful musical, it is integral to have memorable songs and dance sequences that wow the audience. Luckily, ‘La La Land’ has all that and more. The music, being written by the Tony-award-winning theatre songwriting duo Pasek and Paul, is simply beautiful. Some songs may be slow and romantic while others are just jazzy and fun to listen to. The musical score, composed by Chazelle’s longtime collaborator Justin Hurwitz, fits this mold as well, hitting a fine line between energetic and dreamy.
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The set and costumes are done masterfully as well. Deciding to set this story of two people chasing their dreams in Los Angeles is important for the theme of the film, as it shows the reality of life in this city while never compromising the beauty of taking the leap and following this path. Chazelle makes certain that everything in the city is bright, from the color of a sky getting ready to set all the way to the neon lights of a nightclub shining downtown. This includes costuming and set design too.
Mia is almost always seen wearing a bright-colored dress or some sort of bright piece of clothing. Background characters all wear a multitude of fun colors to match the hopeful and eager mindset that everyone has when trying to make it big in the city. Different scenes and different objects carry a different color with them, it’s almost as if any shot from this film could be taken and sold as a beautiful painting.
Every Shot Feels Like a Dream
The cinematography and shot composition of ‘La La Land’ are on a different level. Using mainly wide shots or full shots to immerse the characters in this fantastical setting, the camerawork is very smooth and graceful. It’s almost as if the camera itself is in a dance as well. These smooth movements help contribute to the dreamy nature of the film, as if this entire story is one big, beautiful dream that our main characters are experiencing. It’s enough to make this story feel romantic in every possible way, which is exactly why this film is a must-watch for anyone who loves dreaming big.
Chazelle makes masterful work of telling a story that seems old, but is completely new. That is why ‘La La Land’ is his best work yet, and his most poignant. Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone feel perfect in the roles they play, their chemistry with each other as clear as day. Stone plays Mia’s eagerness and drive very well. Gosling as Sebastian is brilliant, with his inner passion and love for jazz driving this character home. Both do wonders in every scene together.
Overall, this film is absolutely worth a viewing, and anyone who has a love for old musicals will adore this. It respects the groundbreaking musicals that came before it while also paving its own path into something completely different. To anyone who’s ever believed in risking it all and making a name for themselves, this musical is the encouragement to follow your dreams. As Mia sings during an emotional moment in the film, “Here’s to the fools who dream,”.
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Ben Ross is a writer at Hollywood Insider. He loves watching films and finding the message behind the art. With a love for movies and television, his goal is to understand as much as he can about anything he watches, and engage with readers about different topics related to the industry. He aims to find work that sheds a light on issues not really talked about and showcase it, feeling that it is important to understand the truth. Together with his readers, he hopes to celebrate beautiful stories in film and explore topics that are worth discussing – a value that defines Hollywood Insider.