My not-so-inner theatre nerd is always excited when a new movie musical is announced. I almost shit my pants the first time I saw the “Les Miserables” trailer. I was a little skeptical about “The Last Five Years” and “Into the Woods.” However I had no clue what to expect when I parked my fanny in front of the big screen to behold La La Land. With all the Oscar buzz surrounding the film, I thought perhaps it would be appropriate to share my feelings about the film.
As a film, “La La Land” is not without it’s faults. It is true that Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling are not particularly gifted singers and dancers, yet this somehow contributes to the film’s authenticity rather than detracting from what the film seeks to accomplish. As Ann Hornaday notes in her review “neither is a particularly gifted singer or dancer, but that hardly matters in a film that sweeps them up as if carried by a swirling force of nature: They have the unforced grace of natural performers, lending an offhand rakishness to every step they take.” I find this to be particularly true of the intimate musical numbers between Stone and Gosling. While they are average singers, they are still able to convey a sense of honesty and accurately portray the many varied passions of new love. The vulnerability of Emma Stone reaches a pinnacle during the song, Audition (the Fools who Dream.) She imbibes the song with a profound sense of longing, hope and determination. It was a tremendously honest and visceral scene, and perhaps one of the reasons Stone has been given an Oscar nod for her performance.
One of the more interesting of the film’s attributes is it’s unique aesthetic. Filmed primarily with bold, primary hues the film taps into the nostalgia of old Hollywood and the movie musicals of its’ hay day. Beginning with the opening credits, when the viewer is presented with a retro Cinemascope logo and continuing throughout the length of the film. Although the film takes place in modern Los Angeles, the staging, costuming and cinematography ring of beloved mid-century movie musicals. Among these are the costumes worn by Gosling and Stone. Gosling in particular, with his oxford dress shoes and his character’s penchant for wearing a wool suit, no matter what the weather. Lending to the film’s visual nostalgia are old Hollywood backdrops, street murals of movie stars and even the interior of Mia’s bedroom.
Also striking about the film, is that despite Damien Chazelle’s commitment to creating a work of art and films with such ambitions often smack of pretentiousness, this one does not. While the film is ‘artsy-fartsy,’ it still rings of honesty. It portrays the hardships of romantic relationships, the struggles and heartache of being an aspiring artist, and the disappointment that comes with trying and failing. It also speaks of compromise, as Sebastian (Gosling) joins a band because it will provide steady pay rather than an ideal artistic outlet, and the resulting strain his decision places on the characters’ relationship. The film depicts the struggles of real life, especially as they pertain to those who are trying to make a livelihood through art.
Lastly, notable about the film is its bittersweet ending. The film ends with a musical montage as Sebastian reminisces about what could have been. It leaves the viewer feeling vaguely dissatisfied, emotional and somehow fulfilled. Many viewers question the ending. Why did it have to be bittersweet? And the answer, in my opinion, is that life is often bittersweet.