I want to start this off with all the context I can possibly give: I am the group to whom this movie panders to. I’ve studied theatre for several years and have gotten nit-picky enough about cinema that if my ego were bigger I’d call myself a critic. I have the soundtracks to RENT, Spring Awakening, and Hamilton on my phone, as well as Moana and Repo! The Genetic Opera. My first movie obsession was Kiki’s Delivery Service, to where my mother refuses to see it in her waking life ever again. Musicals, especially film musicals, thrive in my blood, and if there’s ever a day where I don’t want to see a musical assume me an alien from the planet Zaaldron. When I heard that La La Land was an homage to old-school Hollywood musicals, I nodded and shrugged and said ‘why not, sounds up my alley,’ and good gracious above it delivered. I left my theater with red-stained eyes and a smile bigger than I’ve had at a movie in over ten years. I have never loved a movie this much since I was a child and if I could meet Damien Chazelle in person, I’d thank him for making a masterpiece of a film.
The directing and acting are realistic and authentic, the cinematography is out of this world, the set locations are extremely fitting and the color pallet is handled with a grace I’ve missed in a world where action movies means brown and dramas means blue. Every frame of this movie is lit phenomenally, with such attention to detail and script focus that I got lost in its technical detail. The art director, Austin Gorg from Her, and Chazelle coordinate to make the environment of Los Angeles elevate Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, playing Mia and Sebastian respectively, to a focus and attention that leaves me breathless and stunned. From the first number, basically a picket sign reading ‘Hey this is a musical, leave now if you aren’t interested,’ La La Land opens its doors for the viewer to enter its beautiful world, unreal and magical in its mundanity. But what truly cinched it for me, what really grabbed me by my heart, was its score.
Score is something that tends to be underrated in the arts (see the Tonys removing Best Score from its award lineup). It’s partly why I love musicals, because the score can really make or break a film. The best films are made great from its scores, try to imagine Star Wars for example without John William’s scoring. La La Land knows where it exists, knows its place and its time, and it truly feels like the score is the film’s true draw, outshining even Ryan Gosling and his wonderful piano skills (which man, if I wasn’t trying to be concise I would gush over). The way Chazelle handles the music, which we first saw in Whiplash, really shines and illuminates in La La Land. The cinematography and writing and acting are all amazing, and truly the world feels so real that I only realized it passed the Bechdel test while talking about with a friend, but it’s obvious from the get-go the true star of the film is the score.
Without giving spoilers (because really, this is the kind of movie that’s best knowing nothing about), the ending is the best I’ve seen in a very long time. It’s refreshing to see a fictional reality rooted so firmly in actual reality, still showing and giving the magic it wants us to see but keeping our expectations realistic. I rooted for Stone’s character, and I rooted for Gosling’s character, and in the end I rooted for them both still. I saw the movie two days ago and I’m still rooting for them, cheering on their lives in their fictional world but the world that Mia and Sebastian still live in regardless. It’s a world where strangers break into choreographed song and dance in L.A. traffic, and it’s a world where I have a hard time pulling myself out of.
If you are not a person who gets giddy at the idea of a two-and-a-half hour musical, don’t see this movie. If you’re not into Broadway or 50’s-era film, don’t see this movie. If you’re expecting an Enchanted-style Disney romance, realize you’re setting yourself up for less-than ideal world. The magic of the film lies in the way it holds its child-like wonder and joy at the world, tap-dancing to the purple fading-into blue skyline of Los Angeles, close-up shots of jazz musicians in their groove and tight shots of Emma Stone acting perhaps just a bit too hard at failed auditions. The magic lies in presenting these as commonplace, but in seeing possible greatness in the failure. You feel for Sebastian in the first half hour, when you see he’s a failing musician in his debt-ridden studio, and you feel for Mia when her audition is ruined because her white blouse has coffee spilled all over it. But you smile when they first meet, when the score picks up and you see the real greatness that lies in them both and the true potential they both have. The movie is about their potential, about how they use each other to find their path, and how that affects their lives. Our real world is woven with the movie’s magic and greatness, failure mixed with success, character falls shaping into character triumphs, and the final scene hits me with such a heart punch that I want to personally thank Chazelle for birthing such a stunning, wonderful, and breath-taking movie baby.
If this review doesn’t pique your interest then there’s nothing more I can do, my case is presented for you above in plain enough English. As someone who saw this movie and fell in love in 30 seconds, I can promise that La La Land is going to be the soundtrack I listen on repeat for the next few months.