Monday, December 12, 2016

La La Land is a Beautiful, Immersive, Heartwarming Musical Journey [Contributor: Megan Mann]

I love musicals. I especially love the old Hollywood musicals that swept through cinemas at an alarming rate during the golden era. There’s something about them — how over-the-top they are, how they made it so simple to dream of someone saying they loved you with a well-choreographed song and dance — that just sets my heart aglow. I watch Meet Me in St. Louis every Christmas Eve, I plant myself in front of the screen when Seven Brides for Seven Brothers or Singin’ in the Rain comes on, and regularly sing showtunes in my daily life.

So you can imagine my excitement when it was announced last year that Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling would be starring in La La Land: a throwback to the old Hollywood musical. Color me even more excited when I found out that it was the opening film for this year’s Chicago Film Festival.

La La Land begins on a sunny California day on a traffic-choked freeway. We hear music coming from various cars until it stops on just one car whose driver starts singing. She exits her vehicle and starts to sing and dance through the cars. Suddenly, many others are joining in in perfect synchronicity. It’s a beautiful day, the music is flowing, the choreography is in motion and then it’s back to business as usual and we see a pretty redhead practicing her lines. As the traffic starts to move, she fails to notice and instead hears the blare of a horn behind her. The man who blared the horn maneuvers around her giving her a dirty look and Mia — the woman — is less than enthused.

After learning that she’s an actress with a coffee-shop-on-a-movie-lot day job and he, Sebastian, is a jazz musician sulking about the loss of the perfect location for his own club, the two cross paths after Mia leaves a party and hears music streaming from outside a club. Sebastian is playing and she recognizes him as the guy who had honked at her earlier in the day. They have a sour meeting and once again part ways.

When they find themselves at the same party, she attending and he playing in a truly terrible 80s cover band, they finally take the chance to have a civil conversation. It’s sweet and simple and ends in a wonderful song and dance overlooking the Hollywood Hills as they look for her Prius among the hundreds of others. Mia tells Sebastian that she works at the coffee shop on a backlot and when he shows up a few days later, they take a stroll and learn a little bit more about each other.

After a night of jazz and lively conversation, the two enter into a whirlwind romance that is lovely and saccharine. The two learn and grow from each other and encourage each other to pursue their dreams. They also have one of the most magical musical numbers that is reminiscent of the Golden Age of cinema. But it’s not all daisies and cupcakes. Much like a real relationship, problems occur and you hope against hope that they’ll wind up together.

La La Land was a very special film. It had me laughing, it warmed my heart, and it hit me right in the feels. It was written in a way that made the audience feel like these characters were your friends and you were seeing the visual representation of the highs and lows that you talked about on the phone with them. It was immersive in a way that I hadn’t experienced in awhile. You just wanted to reach through the screen and say, “Hey, it’s okay. This is going to be okay.” The film broke your heart as often as it made it swell.

It also will resonate with millennials as they struggle to find their place in the world. As a generation that works in extremes — in this case being majorly overconfident or wildly insecure — it will get you on an emotional level. We struggle to make it in our chosen fields and we struggle to make time for a relationship. We try to find a balance, but oftentimes it’s difficult to strike that. Wrestling with what’s important at what time and dealing with the stress of it all can take a toll on the important aspects of your life. La La Land is thought-provoking in that way and certainly had me crying as Mia confesses that she’s worried that she’s not good enough to make it.

So in that respect, I somewhat understand why as I walked out of the theater I heard older audience members saying that they had anticipated so much more from the film. Older generations did not really deal with the stress of finding the perfect balance between everything — struggling to find a proper job and being painfully insecure about ourselves, our futures, and where we’re at in life since our successes and failures are so readily on display for the world to see. I do understand that that aspect of the script didn’t really strike a chord with older viewers.

And that’s okay! A film doesn’t always have to be a home run with every age demographic. However, the leads are Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone; two actors who are not going to be dealing with much material that is beyond their age bracket. That simply wouldn’t make sense, nor would it even be believable. For those worried about the script and its content, I would recommend taking it with a grain of salt and appreciating it for what it is. It’s a movie, not Tolstoy.

But something that all audience members can agree upon is the musical aspect of the film. La La Land was truly reminiscent of Old Hollywood glamour. It had grandeur and emotion. Not a single number felt inorganic. What writer/director Damien Chazelle (writer/director of last year’s Oscar-winning Whiplash) did so wonderfully is weave in the song and dance in a way that seemed natural to these characters. It never felt forced. In one number, you even see Gosling help Stone change her shoes from heels to dancing Oxfords.

And the songs! The songs were written so well and had a great deal of emotion. Two separate songs had me in tears, including one that was interlaced throughout the film that had me smiling in the beginning and crying by the end. Chazelle really put a lot of heart into this film and it’s obvious between lyricism and story.

While Gosling and Stone are obvious virtuosos, it’s Chazelle that we should be watching. An Old Hollywood musical in a time where the musical sinks more often than it floats was a colossal undertaking and for it to work so well was an accomplishment. After the underdog success of Whiplash, his follow-up needed to be something equally as spectacular. And for someone who loved that film, I can attest to the fact that La La Land does, in fact, showcase his monstrous talent and is on par with the uniqueness of its predecessor.

I would certainly recommend La La Land for anyone who loves music, wants a film that they can relate to, and loves a good love story. It takes you out of the everyday and on a magical ride. Even if you just really love Ryan Gosling’s face or Emma Stone’s humorous delivery, this is a great night out. Plus, if you see it this month, you’re already ahead of awards season which this is already all over, between Critics Choice and Golden Globes already.

This holiday season, fall in love through song and dance with a story of struggle and romance. Where could you possibly go wrong?


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