La La Land, An ode to classic romance musicals
Film: “La La Land”; Director: Damien Chazelle; Cast: Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, John Legend, Rosemary DeWitt, Finn Wittrock, Callie Hernandez, Sonoya Mizuno, Jessica Rothe, Tom Everett, Joss Pence and J.K. Simmons; Rating: ***1/2
Set in the heart of Hollywood, and designed like a French New Wave film, “La La Land” is a musical love story that dwells upon fate and choices.
The film begins with a trail of cars stuck in a traffic jam one winter day, till the crowd breaks out into the song, “Another day of sun”, and through the song, we learn the back-stories of some of the people there. This song-and-dance explosion, with commuters exiting their cars and coalescing into a teaming mass of jubilation on the freeway, is sincere and full of energy and promise.
It sets up the status quo as well as the wondrous tone and tenor of the narration.
It is the story of Mia (Emma Stone), an aspiring actor who works at a cafe, and Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) a struggling jazz pianist, who dreams of opening his own club. Both are struggling dreamers, hoping to get their appropriate break. While socialising in the right crowd, they bump into each other often and their travails instantly mark them as kindred spirits.
After one such party, while walking towards their parked cars on a hilly road, they sing how beautiful this scenic view would be — if only, they were with someone they love. They playfully antagonise the other into a dancer’s rivalry. The dancing is mischievous and fun. It is performed in wide angles and allows you to soak in the movements.
And eventually their paths intersect.
The plot does not reveal anything that you haven’t seen before, but it is the treatment that makes it stand apart. The director tries to infuse elements from old classics and is able to maintain the sparkling, fizzy experience, with finesse and the right spirit.
The characters serve the plot. They exist to entwine and then be dutifully pulled apart. It is Mia and Sebastian’s universe and hence, there are no significant supporting characters in the film.
Emma Stone as Mia is cute, natural and effortlessly captivating. Apart from the dancing sequences, she is outstanding in two scenes. First, in an audition where she pretends to be a mistress. The sheer variety of emotions that she is able to quickly convey through her facial expressions with tear-filled eyes and posture are remarkable. And the second is a musical showcase where she belts out a story about how her aunt inspired her to be a dramatist.
She is aptly supported by Ryan Gosling who essays the grumpy Sebastian with ease. With a pleasing demeanour, he is a natural charmer and you get drawn to his magnetic aura, albeit reluctantly.
Apart from the performance, it is the camera work by Linus Sandgren that enthrals you. With long unbroken, wide angle shots that dive and dip, it leaves the audience with plenty of space to appreciate the emotions, ambience and dancing.
The songs by composer Justin Hurwitz and lyricists Beni Pasek and Justin Paul are quite ordinary. They fail to register by the end of the screening.
Overall, “La La Land” is a stylishly made film that pays homage to classic romance musicals.