Martin Scorsese has recently voiced a rather controversial opinion, one suggesting that younger generations of filmmakers lack vision and ambition in their craft. Chazelle, aged 31, would most certainly disagree. His debut film Whiplash generated monumental appreciation, with many fans eagerly anticipating his next directorial triumph.
Jazz is clearly a very personal subject for Chazelle. Both Whiplash and now La La Land feature the genre and is very influential on both narratives. Ryan Gosling’s jazz-crazed Sebastian is very much a reflection of the director himself, with his eagerness to revive the genre back to its golden ages showing throughout. His commitment towards the music he cherishes so dearly sadly lands him nowhere, it cannot pay his bills, nor can it inspire others, but it can find him love. Enter Emma Stone’s Mia, a barista and an aspiring actress who is under-appreciated in her auditions. Both of these characters are not where they want to be in life and are relentless in their approach to change this. La La Land is undoubtedly a love story between man and woman, but it’s also so much more than that, it’s a tug-of-war story between ambition and reality.
“How are you going to be a revolutionist if you’re such a traditionalist?” John Legend’s advice to Gosling’s Sebastian rings true for the entire film. Indeed it’s a musical in the traditional sense, but it’s far more than what is shown on its surface. The delightful score provided by Justin Hurwtitz, helped by the performances by Stone and Gosling (City of Stars in particular), is just an element of the film, a mere percentage of what Chazelle has to offer. The film both literally and metaphorically goes through the seasons, and much like Christian practices and principles, the characters both gain and lose. It becomes a story that transcends love and ambition and addresses how these characters are human beings experiencing human flaws and sacrifices. It would have been easy for Chazelle to create a lovey-dovey story that encounters no bumps in the road, but instead, he very much shows the resounding impact that these bumps have on the characters – helped unquestionably by Stone and Gosling’s terrific lead performances. These actors have never been better.
The overall tone to La La Land is extremely vintage, to the extent that when a Toyota Prius or an iPhone appears on screen it’s a little jarring. It’s relevant to note that this is a modern piece of cinema that pays homage to popular culture that was prolific during the 1950s, a period that showcases classics such as Casablanca and Rebel Without a Cause. From the poster of Ingrid Bergman on Mia’s wall to the flammable film in a Los Angeles auditorium, La La Land is a film that isn’t afraid to tip its hat to prime cinema.
Much like popular musicals such as Grease and The Wizard of Oz, La La Land has a tendency to dip its toes into the pools of absurdity and silliness. This, by far, is not a complaint I have of the film, if anything it helps establish its genre. Musicals are meant to be extraordinary and extravagant and this is no different, and it’s what the genre needed. Take a glance back at the musicals cinema has had to offer over the past decade, from Mama Mia! to Glitter, and you’ll find the genre needed a revamp, and thankfully Chazelle was at the helms of such a wonderful project.
La La Land is delightful, comedic and melancholic all at once. It’ll send you on a journey of emotions, but its narrative of ambition versus reality, and what could have been when these ambitions become a reality, will make you glad you strapped yourselves in for this one. It’s a cinematic experience that I never wanted to leave.
A Mesmerising Cinematic Experience!