I know, I know. I just had to do it. What more is there really to say about this movie? What more could I possibly add to the discussion? Maybe just a few things. I had seen Whiplash in theaters and was completely blown away. I couldn’t believe what I had just seen. Who was this amazing director? And why haven’t I ever heard of him? It was probably my favorite movie of the year. After a while I was looking into him and I discovered he was working on a new project. This little movie called La La Land, with the simple log line: “A jazz pianist falls for an aspiring actress in Los Angeles.” A musical starring Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling. Right away I knew it would be my favorite film of 2016. Not just because I have a huge love that aesthetic, but also I knew there was tremendous talent behind the camera.
Filmmaker Damien Chazelle had a considerably hard time getting this movie made. He had been working on it since he finished school but every studio said no. One studio came really close but wanted him to turn Sebastian into a rock musician and change the ending. He refused. After getting very frustrated he made Whiplash for very cheap, got nominated for an Oscar and then he was all good. Take that, stupid movie studios!
Soon enough the movie was killing it around the festival circuit. Festival after festival there was a huge uproar at how amazing this movie was. It only got me more and more excited. How can a movie really be this good? Finally I got to see it in New York a few weeks ahead of it’s wide release date and I must say, seeing that movie for the first time was one of my favorite movie theater experiences. It was everything I loved about filmmaking rolled up into one big, juicy, masterpiece. It truly captured my imagination from the very beginning. The movie felt like it was 20 minutes for me, and I wish that’s how every movie felt.
This brings us to now, it’s Oscar season and this seems to be the movie everyone is talking about. It is huge. Everyone seems to be in love with it. I think it’s a movie that’s impossible not to love. Unless you’re some hipster who just has to be different from everyone or else you die.
Why do so many people seem to like it? What’s so great about it? Well it seems to confirm a theory I’ve had for a long time that I have tried to use in my own work. La La Land is a story that, while very grounded in reality, has heightened moments of fantasy. Let me explain. The acting is very real, the dialogue is natural. We feel we can look these characters in the eyes and understand them. We see ourselves in them. The story is relatable and grounded. We get sucked into it. Then, all of a sudden they start singing, and dancing, and floating, and montage-ing. Moments that we know would never actually happen in real life, but convey a certain emotion that the filmmaker wants us to feel. While I have never suddenly started singing my heart out and dancing in front of the city skyline, I have certainly felt that emotion. I have certainly imagined it in my head. We all have to an extent. The movie visualizes these emotions in bursts. In filmmaking this is called expressionism. Which is conveying surreal moments to express a real idea or emotion, stemming from films in Germany in the 1920’s. The opposite being realism. Which is just showing things how they are. Straight up. No messin’ around. Usually movies are one or the other. Either fantasy or reality. La La Land works because it perfectly balances the two.
The performances are considerably grounded compared to films of similar genres in the past. The singing and dancing masterfully toned down. This keeps that special balance between fantasy and reality that makes the movie so relatable and inspiring. Some people may complain about the singing and dancing not being Justin Bieber quality. But lets face it, the world isn’t ready for that yet!! We haven’t seen a film like this in nearly 40 years. We gotta take it slow. And I think Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling did an incredible job with these performances. Reminiscing classic reoccurring on screen couples like Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.
Sometimes the classic magic of cinema can be lost in all the hyper-realism and big budget cash grabs. La La Land is a rare film that shows a truly mastered understanding of the cinematic language, but also an incredible ear for what audiences are asking for in entertainment. You may not think it at the moment, but you do love classic movies. You do love musicals. Think, The Wizard of Oz, West Side Story, Hairspray, or pretty much any Disney movie. They all have similar feelings of magic, that for some reason have become so rare in cinema today. I say if it ain’t broke don’t fix it. And that’s exactly what Damien Chazelle did, and now his movie is nominated for 14 Academy Awards, so…HA!