by Christian Bonavita
On a sunny day in Los Angeles, cars sit in bumper-to-bumper traffic when a cheerful song begins to play. A woman in a bright yellow dress exits her car, humming the tune of the song, and she is quickly joined by hundreds of others who do the same. The opening number is soon in full swing, a five-minute scene shot in one long take. As the single camera darts around, capturing sharp dance moves executed by men and women dressed in bright colors reminiscent of the 1950s, viewers are introduced into the magical world of La La Land, a modern take on a traditional Hollywood musical. The risk that comes with producing musical films completely pays off in La La Land; the movie is triumphant, captivating audiences from the very first note to the stunning and tear-jerking ending.
After the opening number, the movie takes a turn; throughout the rest of the movie, large ensemble performances are scarce. Instead, focus is placed on two Los Angeles residents, Mia (Emma Stone), an aspiring actress who works as a barista in a Warner Brothers studio lot, and Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), a pianist and lover of jazz music. While their first meeting is hostile, to say the least – Sebastian aggressively drives his car around Mia’s, and she repays him with a middle finger. When they meet again months later, it is clear that despite their sarcasm and display of distaste for one another, they are actually falling in love.
The two main characters serve as representations one of the main themes of the film: the way that forward movement of modern pop culture erases traditional values. While Sebastian, a man who romanticizes old jazz music, appears to be the representation of tradition, when an old friend, Keith (John Legend), enters the picture and invites Seb to join his mainstream pop band, the clash between passion and ambition, between the new and the old, becomes the main conflict of the film. Sebastian knows that he will find success in Keith’s band, but he will have to leave jazz, which he loves. At the same time, Mia struggles with giving up her dreams on being a modern actress in favor of her childhood dream of writing her own plays. So, while at the beginning Mia seems to represent modern Hollywood, she soon is the traditional force of things, arguing with Sebastian that he should follow his passion instead of joining the pop band. This difference between the two characters becomes the main conflict in the film.
A number of factors distinguish La La Land as a truly great film, including the lead acting, set design, and directing. Emma Stone seems completely in her element as Mia, shining as a performer and actress. She expresses her emotions extremely well through her acting, singing, and dancing; the most captivating moment of the film came when she sang “The Fools Who Dream” at an audition. In this scene, Stone’s eyes told her story along with the song’s lyrics about her aunt who inspired her to be an actress. Shot in one take, this scene was the climax of the movie. Gosling and Stone’s dancing were also of a very high caliber, which came as a pleasant surprise. The lead acting was supplemented by the amazing soundtrack and score. The film had no shortage of great songs, and its jazzy background music throughout gave the feel of a 1950s Broadway musical.
A large component of the film that also added to this traditional musical feel was the set design. All of the settings contained prominent pastel colors and well-dressed people wearing bright dresses, shirts, and pants. If not for the cell phones and modern cars, the musical could have easily been set in another timeframe. Each scene was visually pleasing, which has an overwhelmingly positive effect on the overall feel of the movie.
Overall, La La Land is charming, emotional, and unique, and a must-see for fans of any genre of film. The movie is something to experience, sucking in viewers from the very beginning and not letting go until they want to see it over and over again.