La La Land (Here’s to the ones who dream)

Rating: Very Severe


Year: 2016
Running time: 2 hour 8 minutes
Director: Damien Chazelle
Cast: Emma Stone, Ryan Gosling, John Legend, Rosemarie DeWitt

Spoiler alert in effect.

“Wow”. That literally describes my reaction immediately after watching the film. I’m gonna say it now, this is easily the best movie of the year, and for me, maybe one of the best I’ve ever watched. And that’s saying something. I’ve always been a sucker for musicals, but this was just next level. It’s so original and refreshing. It seriously is. The music is inspiring and emotional, the dancing is impeccable yet sincere and the performances given by Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling are superb. The chemistry between them is palpable, developed over three films working together.

I came in with limited knowledge of the actual plot of the film, or even the structure of it. I’ve seen the initial first trailer, I knew it was a musical, I knew the director also directed Whiplash, and I have heard nothing but rave reviews, from my friends and critics alike. So I came in with relatively high expectations to be entertained and a buzzing excitement that I could possibly be about to watch a film that would take a place amongst my favourites. Right from the opening musical sequence on the Californian highway, I knew it would love it. Bright-coloured costumes with sophisticated choreographed dancing, great singing and melodies and a creative setting are a musical lover’s paradise. It sets the whole tone and feel for the film. Something colourful, upbeat and whimsical.

In fact, the whole film pays homage to 1940s and 1950s Hollywood era of classic cinema and musicals (like Singin’ in the Rain, Casablanca and Rebel Without a Cause) in terms of the backdrop, colouring, and costuming. It has that classic feel to it, but with enough of a modern touch to keep it relevant. Specifically, the musical number “A Lovely Night” reminded me of Singin’ in the Rain, especially when Ryan Gosling swung around the lamp post. There was an interview I watched where Ryan explained how the notion of Singin’ in the Rain is seeing the bright side of a not-so-great situation, by dancing in the rain. In “A Lovely Night”, it flips around this notion, saying that despite the beautiful night atop the Hollywood hills, neither person enjoys it, and they are in fact bored of each other. I thought that was a lovely touch to pay tribute. The costuming was another aspect of the tribute which I absolutely loved. I thought all the costumes were perfect! All of Emma Stone’s dresses fit her so perfectly, especially the blue one in the beginning, and were perfect for all her dance sequences. And Ryan Gosling would look perfect in any piece of clothing anyways, but he looks especially charming and debonair with his silky shirts and two-toned shoes.

A Lovely Night indeed
Emma Stone’s blue dress
Ryan Gosling’s outfit

In terms of the actual plot, it tracks the lives of two aspiring Hollywood artists: Mia, who wants to be an actress and playwright, and Sebastian, who is a pure jazz enthusiast who hopes to open his own bar that pays homage to jazz music. They accidentally cross paths several times, and appear to dislike each other on their first few encounters. But simmering under the surface is an undeniable attraction for one another which is eventually realised. Nothing works out perfectly though, and as each of their career’s progress, they begin to see things differently from each other. It’s really a bittersweet ending. I wished it had actually finished a few minutes before the end, because as audience members, we’re so emotionally invested in their relationship and we root for them, then to see a different ending like that really tugs at your heartstrings. But I guess that’s life. You can still find happiness even if it isn’t the fairytale ending, even if there is always the lingering pain or regret of what could have been. The point is, you tried, you tried to live your dream, as foolish or as crazy as it seems, you had the heart and guts to do it. Mia wrote a her own play and put it on, even if only a handful of people showed up. Sebastian eventually opened his bar, but lost Mia because he was trying to be someone who he’s not, doing things he doesn’t believe in. If you’re passionate about something, if you enjoy doing it, then it’s worth pursuing, because at the end of the day, you want to feel satisfied and happy. If you’re not doing something that you enjoy, you’re going to bring that home with you and it’s going to affect not only your life, but those around you as well. But if it’s something you want to do, then all the sacrifices and hard work will be meaningful for you. Of course not everyone gets the realistic opportunity to do what they love, but if you do, why not take it? I guess the film is trying to say: it’s better to try and fail than to live with the regret of never trying at all.

The casting choice was spot-on. I couldn’t imagine a more perfect pairing for this film with Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone. They seem so at ease with each other and are perfectly in sync with their gestures and expressions. There’s so many hilarious moments in the film which are created through body language rather than dialogue, which requires great skill from these actors. These two and their chemistry are the essential ingredients that make audiences emotionally invested in the story and make simple moments magical. The bumpy start to their relationship, where they try to seem totally bored of the other, to the height of their love, to the downfall, all the way to the bittersweet ending, it is the talents of Gosling and Stone that make you root for them. After watching Crazy Stupid Love and Gangster Squad, it’s easy to see why this film worked out so well. They are electric together on screen, and hopefully this is only the beginning of collaborations to come.

For the actual music, when I first saw the trailer, I was a bit worried I wouldn’t like the style of it. I’m a massive fan of stage musicals like Les Mis, so I knew that this may not be to my liking. Plus, jazz is definitely one of my least favourite genre of music. But surprisingly, I truly enjoyed each number. Not a single one made me bored or regret watching it. I guess Sebastian convinced me, the same way he convinced Mia, that jazz isn’t so bad, once you understand it better. I still wouldn’t say I’m a jazz fan, but maybe I’ll give it a chance next time I hear it. To be honest though, I did go to Spotify straight after watching this film to listen to the soundtrack, so that’s a good sign that I enjoyed it very much. My favourites include “A Lovely Night” and “City of Stars” on the piano. But I think the best was Mia’s audition song “The Fools Who Dream”. The composer is Justin Hurwitz, and a quick Google search shows that he collaborated with the director, Damien Chazelle, on his previously critically-acclaimed film, Whiplash. Now, I haven’t watched it yet, but I’ve heard nothing but good things about it, so it’s definitely next on my never-ending what-to-watch list. If La La Land was this good, I can’t wait to hear his future work.

Damien Chazelle and Justin Hurwitz

Overall, if you’re a musical fan, then this is no-brainer. You must go watch this. If you’re not into musicals, there’s a 99% chance you will still enjoy it. So go watch it. This film will take home all the awards next year.

Other ratings:
Rotten Tomatoes: 93%
Metacritic: 93/100
IMDb: 8.9/10

Discussion questions:
1. Are you a fan of musicals? If not, did you still enjoy it?
2. Do think this will win Best Picture at the Oscars (gonna jump ahead of myself and say it’s gonna at least be nominated in the Best Picture category)?
3. If you weren’t already a jazz fan, are you now after watching this?


7 thoughts on “La La Land (Here’s to the ones who dream)

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