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Spectacular Music, Potent Cinema Commentary in ‘La La Land’

Spectacular Music, Potent Cinema Commentary in ‘La La Land’

'La La Land' Earned Its Seven Golden Globes

Chazelle’s Latest an Instant Classic

Director Damien Chazelle takes the acute direction he utilized for “Whiplash” – one of the most memorable works of 2015 – and infuses it with even more ambition and charisma in his latest feature film.

The result is “La La Land,” a film that is van Gogh’s “Starry Night” come to life. It represents a genre-reinvigorating tribute to the musicals of 60 years ago, as well as a timeless story of romance, dreams and what happens when the two collide.

The film demands attention from the onset via a musical number that slowly escalates until it becomes a memorably exuberant sequence.

Aspiring actress Mia is played by Emma Stone in a turn that is remarkable and poignant. She seems so natural here, dancing as though she came straight from the stage and singing the movie’s most memorable tunes.

Ryan Gosling stars opposite as Sebastian, a pianist concerned with the impending extinction of traditional jazz. He has his moments as well, but his performance feels comparatively subdued, as if he’s playing a version of himself with a charm that is well established.

When the two cross paths, their story begins, and it’s an enchanting experience to witness.

It goes without saying that, musically, “La La Land” is a marvel. The Oscar-worthy score has a demanding presence paired with dance numbers that provide a wealth of memorable moments we simply don’t see out of contemporary Hollywood.

A sharp ear might also notice the subtle returns of the film’s main theme. It almost becomes its own character, surveilling Mia and Sebastian as sparks between them fly, and even when they begin to doubt the possibility of their ambitions.

That’s another thing to appreciate about “La La Land.” It has a story to tell, and it doesn’t waver. This is a cautionary tale by Chazelle, who also wrote the film, balancing joyous optimism with the realities of what happens when we yearn to make our dreams a reality. We remember that, in doing so, we will stumble along the way, and sometimes we might not get up on the same path.

In some ways, Chazelle is making a similar commentary on the state of cinema today. One scene in “La La Land” includes a rather explicit critique of the modern moviegoing experience, and the sense of magic that has perhaps been lost along the way.

Chazelle may believe he has performed a duty by demanding our attention with a wholly unique and emotionally satisfying experience, but not in years has the nature of a film’s very existence echoed its themes so profoundly.

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David Lynch is an award-winning film critic and journalist and the current editor-in-chief of the New Mexico Daily Lobo.

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