Saturday, 11 February 2017

Film Review | La La Land (2016)

image via Summit Entertainment

I'm a sucker for musicals. From Singin' in the Rain to Grease, musicals are one of Hollywood's best assets. It's been a love affair of mine since I can remember thanks to my Mum. I was brought up around colourful, mesmerizing, chill-inducing musicals and there hasn't been one in my lifetime that has given me that nostalgic reaction I've yearned for since watching something like Grease for the first time. 

From the calamity that is university, I have had little time to do anything other than write analytical essays. From deadlines to the continuous stress of my dissertation, I've barely been able to keep up with films I need to watch for my course let alone actually going out to see new releases; hence why it's taken me so long to see La La Land. Something that is bizarre in of itself, since it features two of my favourite people - the beautiful Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone. 

Deciding to watch La La Land now couldn't have come at a more perfect time. I'm currently in the last semester of my third year, and have just begun studying American cinema since 1960, alongside how music interplays with film and television. My brain has been full of readings and theories for this week's lectures and seminars, alongside a screening of the 1946 noir classic The Big Sleep. David Bordwell and Janet Staiger's concept that Hollywood as an ever-fluctuating entity that adapts and evolves to its surroundings floated through my mind throughout the duration of La La Land; a film that couldn't better fit to this theory. 

Set in the poetic, modern-day Los Angeles to a classic musical tone, La La Land encapsulates that rare beauty films of the golden-era inhabited, whilst placing it in a familiar time-frame. Through its setting and the aspiring actress Mia Dolan (Stone) and jazz musician Sebastian Wilder (Gosling), the film takes on the more often-than-not optimistic tale of making it in Hollywood whilst battling the realities of where your dreams will take you. Director Damien Chazelle doesn't paint Los Angeles in a bad light at all; rather he puts the city into a perspective where you can't always get what you want initially, but you'll end up with something you thought you'd never need. 

The tropes of the dreamer and aspirator that Chazelle brings forth in La La Land is what makes the film is so beautiful. Chazelle is able to balance optimism and melancholy without it evolving into pessimism. No matter the outcome, everyone is content. Whether that's Mia and Sebastian with their own endeavors, or the viewer's reaction to the overall outcome. It's a beautiful love story between Mia and Sebastian, the dreamers and reality with an unconventional ending. Again, emphasizing Hollywood's ability to adapt and grow. As Chazelle has stated, the idea of La La Land was 'to take the old musical but ground it in real life where things don't exactly work out'. 

 image via magotsrobbie

A lot of directors are inspired by the classics, but Chazelle takes this to another level. La La Land is presented in the traditional CinemaScope (initially used between 1953-1967). Whilst the film is not shot in true CinemaScope (rather on film with Panavision equipment in a widescreen format), it still lends to its retro aesthetic immensely. It is obviously used as a tribute to the classic musicals, however it reminded me of Rebel Without a Cause. Whether that's because Rebel is one of my favourite films or because I'd recently written an analysis on it, the colour palette, costume design and the setting of Los Angeles reminded me of Rebel throughout the film. So, for Rebel to be an integral part of La La Land made this film even more magical than it already is. 

La La Land utilizes the classic film ideal of shooting on-location and using specifically designed sets, rather than relying on blue/green screens and the basic sets used for the lowest cost. This enabled Chazelle, cinematographer Linus Sandgren and set designers David and Sandy Reynolds-Wasco to combine the captivating music (composed by Justin Hurwitz) and colour-saturated, 'timeless with a contemporary sensibility' costume design produced by Mary Zophres with the optimism and dreams of two protagonists. 

Whilst retaining its own flair, style and tone, the musical numbers and choreography of La La Land are that of classic Hollywood. Performed in a single-take, songs such as 'A Lovely Night', 'Someone in the Crowd', 'City of Stars' and the film's opening number 'Another Day of Sun' relish in the classic, magical Hollywood aesthetic that leaves an imprint of nostalgia and chills on the mind and soul. Though this, we are able to relish Mandy Moore's old-style choreography, which shines through Gosling and Stone's ability to sing and dance, emulating the chemistry and persona of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Chazelle has said of the duo to Entertainment Weekly
"They - for me - feel like the closest thing that we have right now to an old Hollywood couple, like Spencer Tracey and Katherine Hepburn or Fred and Ginger or Myrna Loy and Dick Powell. There's something about the recurrence of Ryan and Emma as a couple and about them individually as actors and the way they registers onscreen - the timeless glamour that they're capable of." 
Through this chemistry and blend of the classic and the modern, we are also able to enjoy the niche moments of 'modern' music; Sebastian's stint of performing with an 80s-cover band being the highlight. Watching Mia embarrass Sebastian by making him play the classic 'I Ran' by A Flock of Seagulls will forever be one of my favourite scenes in film. It's easy to forget that La La Land is set in the present day, but with scenes such as this and Mia driving home in a Prius showcases how lost you can become in the magic of Hollywood.  

Chazelle's ability to depict the magic of Hollywood yet underscore it with its imperfections is what hit me the most. He achieved what he wanted to portray; a Hollywood that is grounded. La La Land is a love letter to the creative fools who dream, the fools determined to aspire to dizzying heights no matter how steep the fall. I may not be an aspiring actress or a jazz musician, but I am a creative fool aspiring to be in a difficult, hard-hitting field. I doubt myself everyday with my writing and this blog; the daily rituals of overthinking, if people are benefiting from my writing and if there is any need for another writer/reviewer out there. 

Sitting in that theater on Thursday (February 9), La La Land didn't only reminded me of why I fell in love with film in the first place, but it also struck a chord in terms of my own dreams. Watching Mia and Sebastian go through the same trials and tribulations whilst having the strength to strive forward no matter what ... I needed that. I needed to know that however big my dreams may be, if I push myself I will be able to achieve my own dreams. 

La La Land, directed by Damien Chazelle is distributed by Summit Entertainment, certificate PG-13

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