Year: 2016
Director(s): Damien Chazelle
Writer(s): Damien Chazelle
Region of Origin: US

Rating: PG-13
Aspect Ratio: 2.55:1
35mm, Color, 128 mins

Synopsis: Two lives collide and intersect amidst the Hollywood hustle. 

If Los Angeles can be called a city of stars, both for its Hollywood glamour and endless possibilities, it can also be called a city of lost souls and broken dreams. The contrast between these opposing truths is what director Damien Chazelle shines a light on in La La Land. In all honesty, Chazelle’s latest is a surefire crowdpleaser, burning bright and furiously, and gone all too soon. With its upbeat musical numbers, dazzling production and two killer performances from stars Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, the film cements Chazelle’s as a virtuoso behind the camera, resurrecting the Hollywood musical to deliver a love letter for all the dreamers out there, as well as the people who push us to reach for the stars.

Amidst the hustle and bustle of modern day Los Angeles, are two hungry artists doing everything they can to pursue the dream. On one hand, Mia (Emma Stone) is an aspiring actress, enamored with an idealized version of Hollywood even though she knows first hand its hardship and sacrifice – she works as a barista on the Warner Bros. lot and struggles to balance her day job with demanding auditions. Elsewhere, Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) is a talented jazz pianist who wants to reinvigorate what he believes is a dying genre. He wants to start a jazz club and cultivate upcoming talent, but struggles to make ends meet. Over the course of a year, these two characters’ lives collide over a series of chance encounters, and as their lives become more intwined, they learn the hard cost of turning dreams into reality.

Without mincing words, Chazelle’s film is a breathtaking blend of stunning technical precision and enormous heart. From the massive opening number (which turns Los Angeles gridlock into infectious excitement), to the charm that exudes from its stars, this truly feels like lightning in a bottle, never letting up or giving us time to catch our breath. Though the film is bursting with impeccable style, what sets it apart is Chazelle’s ability to transform his bright primary colors and furious camera work into a sincere look at living without fear. In essence, he’s crafted a layered story about being able to leap headfirst into life’s unpredictability, to act with love and courage as opposed to fear. This sense of liberation is what supercharges the film, with each dynamic moment bursting off the screen, while a keen sense of setting paints Los Angeles in a new light. Even as the film is an embodiment of top shelf escapism, it isn’t afraid to be real, pulling the rug out from under us in its final act to contrast expectation versus reality.

For all the film’s stunning craft, it would be nowhere without its cast, especially Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, who anchor everything with charm and heart. Emma Stone leads things as the more idealistic of the pair, Mia, a quick witted and headstrong woman who never allows misfortune to get her down. Stone’s got a bubbly presence that subverts expectation, allowing a lot of her emotion to shine through nuance even in a film that isn’t always about subtlety. As she transforms throughout the film’s ups and downs, she draws us into its stakes and delivers a rich character who is always more than she’d let on. As Seb, Ryan Gosling is a classic leading man, a bit gruff and no-nonsense, but with a heart of gold. He is the perfect contrast to Stone’s more reserved character, a whirlwind of unpredictability who challenges and thrills. Besides being totally hypnotic through some electric chemistry, both actors give their all to every scene, carrying out demanding musical numbers with effortless ease, and a jazzy sense of spontaneity. You can tell what they’re pulling off isn’t easy, but man, they sure make it look that way. The other character in the film is Justin Hurwitz’s music, which goes from jubilant to poignant at the flick of a switch – it embodies the film’s ideas and focuses the energy of each character in a way that can’t be missed.

I could go on forever about La La Land, but the truth is, you should just go see it. I’m only scratching the surface here, and the real joy of the film is being able to experience what it has to offer firsthand. With all the darkness going on in the world, this is the kind of movie we need right now, one that focuses on the brightness we each hold inside, and how it has the power to inspire and change lives. In that sense, Chazelle’s latest has a vibrancy that no silver screen can contain, channeling numerous callbacks to a simpler time (and classic cinema) in order to face an uncertain future. Check this film out, let its beauty wash over you, and don’t ever stop dreaming.

SG