This film review is spoiler-free.
The ironic and sophisticated beauty of the arduous struggle to achieve one’s love and dream that seems impossible; this is what Damien Chazelle’s film La La Land best captures in its 128 minute running time full of songs and dances. A special spice of this film is that it tries to bring the old musical type of ‘50s and ‘60s films back to life, and that it definitely carries out this vibe successfully. Moreover, Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling’s touching acting takes the film to its highest summit.
La La Land, directed and written by Damien Chazelle, who was also the director and writer of the famous “electrifying” jazz-drum film Whiplash, is set in modern day Los Angeles, USA. This several Golden Globe-winning and Oscar-nominated drama/romance film stars Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling as a lovely couple, each facing hardships to achieve their dream. Emma plays Mia, an aspiring actress and playwright who is deep into the magic of old film stars, and Ryan plays Sebastian, a cranky jazz pianist in silk ties.
The main plot of this film is about how the two fall in love, how they both endeavor to achieve their dream, and how their relationship is actually threatened by their dreams’ success. However, if you dig in deeper, there are much more messages that this heartwarming film tries to convey to the audience.
Ostensibly, the film’s theme isn’t necessarily about “To love or to dream, that is the question,” but it is about how the ambition for a dream and relationships may unfortunately conflict in an indirect way. For instance, Mia and Sebastian both try their best to find a job where they can do what they want to do. However, at one point during the film, Seb starts to think that what Mia really wants from him is to get a settled job with a steady, satisfying income. As this misunderstanding grows, it becomes a turning point for which the earnest couple start to have arguments that could possibly even break one’s heart. Anyway, the important point here is that even these disagreements and tragic parts are depicted magnificently with melancholy songs, dances, and the acting of the cast.
During the film, Sebastian says, “This is the dream. It’s conflict, and it’s compromise. It’s very, very exciting.” Like this line, the process of the couple trying to achieve their goals and carry on their love is breathtakingly exciting and exquisite. The songs and dances do all the magic as they gracefully convey the emotions of the characters with pleasing melodies and lyrics. At the same time, it grabs the public’s attention by daring to go the old-fashioned way of a song-and-dance musical. In fact, the director and writer, Damien Chazelle, deliberately said that he tried to bring up the traditional vibe of ‘50s and ‘60s musical films.
Another point worth noting is that one of his previous films is Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench (2009), and it is also a jazz-musical film having romance as its genre. Sounds pretty similar to La La Land, doesn’t it? Furthermore, the choice of picking a musical film was actually a very clever decision, not only because it grabs the public’s attention by bringing up the good-old musical vibe, but also because it effectively changes the atmosphere of the film to a fantastical one, as if the film itself is daydreaming.
Lastly, it is impossible not to talk about the moving, Oscar-deserved acting that Emma and Ryan performed in the film. Emma Stone, who was actually awarded a Golden Globe and an Oscar for Best Actress, portrays every subtle sentiment of Mia in the most expressive way. Through the whole film, she acts as if she is possessed by Mia, the aspiring actress who meets various difficulties that pull her down, but who keeps on hoping and believing. The audience, especially if they are people who feel like they are dreaming and working for something that they cannot achieve, would be very stirred by how Mia thinks that her dream is something impossible, but how she keeps on trying and not loses her passion. These emotions explode in the song The Fools Who Dream, where Emma perfectly sings about the “foolish” efforts she puts in for her dream. In other words, Mia becomes the anti-hero of the audience.
Moreover, Ryan Gosling, who won a Golden Globe for Best Actor, also shows great performance during the film. However, I applaud him more for his performance on the piano, singing, and dancing than his acting. If I had to be very picky, I would say that his acting lacks just a tiny bit of expression. He could have stressed Seb’s emotions a bit more to transmit thoroughly everything that Seb feels. Nevertheless, Seb and Emma’s acting is still amazing since they delicately convey the emotional changes of the characters.
Overall, La La Land is a bittersweet film that gloriously presents the beauty of dreaming and love in a unique, traditional way of jazz-musical. This song-and-dance film deserves a solid 7/7 for its storyline, music, acting, message, and many other things that made the film shine specially among all others. We tend to only judge whether the result of our dream or love was a success or not. However, La La Land tells us in a bit more different point of view, “Look at how beautiful that swaying, shaking wave of dream and love is!”
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