“La La Land,” starring Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, is the type of film that successfully honors the creative spirit simply by exercising it.
Written and directed by Damien Chazelle, the film has captured the attention of critics and the public alike for its unexpected and wholly original take on the musical film genre. With 14 Oscar nominations, the film has already made history.
The musical film genre is Hollywood at its finest and grandest scale, as it explores the timeless plight of the struggle for success within the artistic world.
“Here’s to the fools who dream, crazy as they may seem,” sings Stone in the film’s climax number, “Audition (The Fools Who Dream).” “So bring on the rebels, the ripples from pebbles, the painters and poets and plays,” she says.
The film opens with an iconic number, “Another Day of Sun.” From the cars of a crowded Los Angeles highway emerge a multitude of singers and dancers who launch into a colorful performance, lamenting the daily life of those trying to “make it” in the Los Angeles audition environment.
“La La Land” quickly transitions into a love story between Mia, a struggling actress who works at a coffee shop on the Warner Brothers studio lot, and Sebastian, a struggling jazz pianist. The pair navigates through failed auditions and gigs, but their new relationship is often strained by the pursuit of their dreams.
Large dance numbers are contrasted with small acoustic moments of intimacy throughout, contributing to the ultimately believable nature of the film’s plot.
The colorfulness of the film’s opening number remains scattered at appropriate intervals within the film’s scenes. However, the film’s intensity lessens following the songs “Someone in the Crowd,” which takes place at a party in the Hollywood hills, and the wittily romantic “A Lovely Night,” overlooking the lights of Los Angeles.
Hidden underneath the outer gloss of the film is a painful, yet hopeful recognition of what it means to love something that goes beyond the scope of self or of another person. For Mia and Sebastian, the love of creating something that outlives the self, whether in music or performance, is a type of love entirely distinct from romance.
“City of Stars,” sung by Gosling and Stone, is a bittersweet medley that strategically ties multiple dimensions of the plot together. It highlights what is and could be, and what is already slipping away.
Musically, the film draws on the sound of classic musicals and jazz. Justin Hurwitz, a Harvard classmate of the film’s director, composed the film’s score and soundtrack.
Perhaps the most common criticism of the film is the director’s choice to cast two white actors as the main characters, which neglects the African American roots of jazz as a genre. Gosling’s character, Sebastian, is depicted as a white man yearning to “save” jazz in the modern age, which unfolds a problematic narrative.
Despite these criticisms, as true and poignant as they might be, the film succeeds at addressing the common human experience of finding a love for the creative process. It also speaks to the unfortunate sacrifices that come with the pursuit of that love.
The creative spirit, as it is expressed throughout the film, transcends the temporal. A creative spirit is a central characteristic of being human.
The film, one that originally had difficulty finding a production studio, takes the old and makes it feel new again. Stone’s performance lends to the classic Hollywood air of the story, while the film’s props and setting serve as reminders that the musical is still modern. Overall, the film succeeds at balancing the timeless with the fresh, the loud with the subtle, all while telling a love story and so much more.
Categories: Arts and Culture