La La Land is a film all about being stuck in the moment. Often, this is seen as a short-sighted trait. Being “in the moment” can easily be associated with being too wrapped up in any single scene rather than seeing the entire picture for what it is. A blinding experience of one particular bit that doesn’t account for the whole. Yet, the joy of La La Land is that it’s a series of escalating moments to be wrapped up in. Where each successive musical number, elaborate transition and intense dialogue scene feeds into a far greater whole. One in which the massive finale gives every previous enjoyable moment a more nuanced context that one couldn’t anticipate. The finale is so entrancing that – for a solid amount of time – I completely forgot I was even in a movie theater. The kind of mythological transportation that films desperately aspire to, but rarely ever achieve.
La La Land chooses to gradually build up to that sweeping cinematic moment of wonder rather than go on a fool’s errand of attempting to keep that going consistently. Director/writer Damien Chazelle immediately plays to the more well meaning senses with “Another Day in the Sun” that goes for the technicolor spark of these LA dreamers subverted against the hue absent cold asphalt of a blocked up LA highway. It’s a wonderful number, but not one with much depth in theory. Same goes to the second number “Someone In the Crowd” that features people at a fancy LA party going ham about their the unpredictable fun of fate and chance as well as the extensive jazzy numbers that get us sucked into the passion of artists. All three numbers spotlight Chazelle’s daring attempts to try and keep everything going in a seamless uninterrupted single take. A dazzling light show full of color, mirth and hope that establishes a youthful unbridled energy that Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling strive for.
Yet, as we move along, there’s a darker thematic edge that persists. As we get past the tap dancing numbers and elaborate jazz pianos, we slowly come to the realization of how the struggles towards one’s dreams feature sacrifice, mainly on a personal level. That even success can get in the way of your initial goals in life. This is the part where the musical numbers stop, leaving the characters out to bare their souls in cold brutal fashion. The kind of fashion that Chazelle still manages to sneak elaborate colors into. There’s a heart wrenching dinner scene that features dark green hues which accent the distance between our leads. One who’s put it to the side potentially forever in pursuit vs someone taking such an amazingly daring risk to put themselves out there. A brutal honest discussion that turns La La Land from mere “Hollywood Creative Problems” into a frank look at people who are at a crossroads in terms of pursuing their goals.
That delicate mixture of Hollywood showmanship and brutal emotional honesty is something hard to accomplish from an acting standpoint. Ryan Gosling provides the perfect amount of arrogant bluster and passionate intensity to get across his desire to bring back a dying artform like jazz. It’s the only way he can balance out Emma Stone’s honest earnestness and fretful worry over what her future in such a tough industry could be. Both show a certain amount of youthful exuberance that’s tempered by a sense of experience. They’ve been beaten up by this place for a while, yet aren’t quite bitter enough to let it completely destroy them. The two of them carry La La Land‘s raw energy and discipline dedication in stride. These are the type of roles meant for true movie stars and they carry the entire affair flawlessly.
The only real issues to have with La La Land lie in some odd decisions towards the climax. Without spoiling, the entire film breaks apart the fairy tale idea of “Making It In Hollywood” as a very easy concept, even with however much work one puts into it. That there are no guarantees for success. Something especially relevant for Damien Chazelle after his previous brutally honest and unflinching work Whiplash. In a seeming contradiction, La La Land presents far more favorable odds to our leads. It seems a bit disingenuous for everything that proceeded, particularly from Stone’s side. Yet, miraculously, the masterful finale manages to put all of this – and the entire film – into context. Context that presents a Gene Kelly-esque elaborate fantasy sequence as an alternate outcome to a crucial time in both their lives. Not the better outcome, but a sweeping romantic memory of what could be based on their real previous passion. One that mirrors how we look back on our pasts with nostalgic fleeting memory, but with the knowledge that reality breeds some potential. Even if it is ultimately a movie-style outcome. It’s murky, but fitting for La La Land, a film that deals with fates of grey while dazzling us with remarkable technicolor style. The type of cinematic magic that dips its toes in reality just enough to give it more bite than being mere cinematic nostalgia. Enough to keep us wrapped up in in each successive scene until it crescendos wonderfully with the finale.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Jazz Piano Keys
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