Foolish as they may seem…
To love and to dream. We live in a time when asking for a common consensus of those words would be foolish. The millennial mindset of instant gratification and the laziness that comes with it doesn’t help. Dreaming can be as dangerous as nostalgia but is equally important. The difficulty is to stay grounded while your head is in the clouds. For many, the idea of love is the main dream, and everything else just follows.
La La Land is the embodiment of love.
The dreamlike state of dancing in the clouds. The fun of experiencing the simple things with your new love: seeing movies together, eating, meeting family, talking in bed late at night and first thing in the morning. Love is writing, ‘Holy hell!’ in your journal after a first date. This is something the film has magically struck since the first image, seen in our header, was released, let alone the wonderful teasers.
Then a blunt wall of reality creeps back in as the clouds depart and your feet return to earth. With love comes wanting the best for your partner. You want them to reach their ambitions and dreams outside of you. You want more.
Not more in general, but more for them. You want them to be the best version of themselves and have their dreams realized. The thing is, dreams often cost money and take time. Time away from the one you love so much. You would be dancing and singing in the hills of Los Angeles forever, but you have to work. You have to pay the bills and save money so you can go after your dreams and passions outside of your partner. Sometimes this means playing the set list of standard Christmas songs instead of your original works that really are wonderful.
Dreams and love are as much work as they are natural.
This is something that La La Land is able to convey even amidst the constant pink and purple hues of a Los Angeles caught in a forever magic hour. I haven’t seen a film more enamored and simultaneously politely disgusted with this city since another Gosling feature, Drive. La La Land opens on a gridlocked freeway in CinemaScope naturally. It’s winter, but it looks as hot as any summer day. We pass from car to car hearing various styles of music before settling on an unknown woman who begins to sing ‘Another Day of Sun’. And we’re off from there.
La La Land loves to capture its song and dance numbers in what appear to be single takes. The opening six minutes (with three sly cuts barely noticeable) is a technical wonder as the camera glides through cars, people, and then above them all to show a stretching traffic jam on the highway.
With technology capable of making anything happen, this opening scene was the only one this year where I questioned how they did it.
Shutting down a connecting ramp on a Los Angeles freeway? Is that possible? The fact that it is and that it’s real is all the better. Director Damien Chazelle (Whiplash) instantly sets the tone for the rest of the film with this opening number. We find, Mia (Emma Stone) in her car, phone to ear in conversation. The traffic begins to move, but she stays still only until Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) relentlessly holds down his car’s horn.
Mia’s car has dust on the dash and her phone is cracked. Despite the opening song and dance that’s full of color and a kinetic energy, I loved the details of the real world we live in. La La Land has a balance to it that deserves as much praise as the more obvious (and wonderful) numbers throughout.
Mia dreams about leaving behind her barista job on the Warner Bros. lot and becoming a famous actress. Sebastian, tired of being a stubborn and struggling jazz musician, wants to open his own jazz club called Chicken on a Stick, but he stands in his own way. Both know what they want, but what will it take to get there?
Sebastian and Mia have a few meet cutes. Each time becoming more and more likable.
“It’s strange that we keep running into each other.”
“Maybe it means something?”
“I doubt it.”
“Yeah, I think so.”
I’ve seen real couples head over heels in love that have less chemistry than Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone. As their relationship continues so does the charm and stride of La La Land. The musical has a wonderful momentum to it that, again, is able to straddle the dreamlike haze of love with the reality of the world.
Sebastian shares his love of jazz with Mia saying that, “Jazz is new every time.” Jazz is love. It’s conflict and compromise. You’ve already found love, so anything else can’t be that difficult. If only that was the truth.
Can love conquer all?
I won’t give any spoilers by going into the specifics of La La Land. It’s something I wouldn’t dare rob you of, but I urge you all to see this on the biggest screen possible and soak it all in. The film has absolute control with every frame. It is charming, smart, fun, and wonderfully acted by its two leads. Gosling and Stone continue to get better, and here’s hoping to a fourth outing on screen together soon. They genuinely don’t make movies like this one anymore.
I will mention that the end is so perfect, sweet, and real amidst the dreams and song and dance of love we all live. The epilogue sequence is one of the most beautifully realized that I’ve seen on film. The epilogue is everything.
La La Land is an emotional and technical achievement as rare as the type of love it portrays. Sing, dance, laugh, and cry. See this movie.