Fair warning – i am going to use the word ‘magic’ a lot in this post. Not going to apologise for it.
Damien Chazelle’s La La Land (2016) is such a bundle of joy, glamour and heartbreak, that you can’t help but soak in every moment of the sheer magic that is transpiring on the big screen. There are fireworks, there is tap dancing, a riveting jazz score, a Technicolor palette that brightens up every frame, the sparkling chemistry between its gorgeous leads, and their tussle with their hopes and ambitions. Heck, at one point, the two leads are gliding and dancing in the air, dancing perfectly like two figurines in those old music boxes. Only in the movies, huh?
The first half is all about the heady charm of falling in Love (not just ‘love’, mind you.). Mia, a struggling actress, bumps into Seb, a struggling jazz pianist, and they live the romance that Hollywood has sold us in the movies of Cary Grant and Humphrey Bogart. So much of the film is left to the mellow music by Justin Hurwitz and the painted sunsets of LA, that not much dialogue is needed. Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling sing and dance in various pretty spots around Los Angeles, and you sit there, with a goofy smile on your face, and you feel like singing and dancing along with them.
But as their love collides with their dreams, reality kicks in. Seb, a pianist whose music is firmly rooted in the past, struggles with his successful new band, whose music he doesn’t identify with. Mia is trying to still hit her big break. The two must confront the possibility that their relationship may not be able to coexist with their personal ambitions. Success comes at a price – and that price is not spending the rest of their lives together. The montage at the end of the film, with the alternate ending to Seb and Mia’s story, is rendered in a gorgeous montage, that is a treat to the eyes and ears.
Visually, the film is a stunning achievement. Chazelle goes all out to depict the magic of the movies, and you stare in wide-eyed wonder, because it has been a very long time since you saw something like this. The limelight falls on the lead when he or she is singing, while the lights dim in the rest of the room, because in that moment, it is only that lead who exists, pouring his or her heart out in song. The dances are choreographed beautifully, not a step out of line. You step out of the hall, gliding, like Gene Kelly in Singin’ in the Rain, a big smile on your face. The music is soothing, a great relief from the repetitive hooks in today’s pop music. All you want to do when you get home, is put on Sidney Bechet, and melt your Sunday blues away.
My only gripe with the film, was the abrupt difference in the mood between the first half and the second half. At some points, you do feel that the dialogue walks a predictable path, and you wish that the writing could have offered something newer. The story of two beautiful people falling in love and fighting with their true desires, is not exactly a new story.
Again, that may be because, La La Land is supposed to be seen as a homage to the great old musicals and love stories of yesterday. In a cold, cynical present, we look to the past for comfort, for in our memories, the past is always tinged with a little sunshine, a little more colour, a little more sparkle. La La Land is escapism at its best, and that is what makes it a film that should not be missed.