La La Land’s song-and-dance never feels routine, knowing when to soar and when to come, tapping, down to earth. It jauntily (and a little mournfully) plays world-weariness off against lofty, la-la dreams, partnering up professional dedication and private devotion. And in a finale deconstructing the musical and reconstructing the story—vaulting this spectacle into another level of dreaminess—Damien Chazelle’s tribute to musicals becomes brilliantly original, going out swinging with one swell of a flourish.
That LA land is in the smoggy distance as this production, popping with colour, kicks off on a congested highway. A driver, then another, then one after the other comes out to croon and hoof it, across hood and roof, on yet “another day of sun.” Cue the season-setting chyron (art-deco font): “winter.” Jazz pianist Sebastian Wilder’s (Ryan Gosling) stuck behind Mia Dolan (Emma Stone), rehearsing lines for an audition in this traffic jam, and he gives her the finger as he passes. They run into each other again, literally, at her café job. Then, fired, he blazes past after she’s stopped short by his piano-riff during a play-the-holiday-standards-only restaurant gig. The fourth time, though, is the charm . . .
This cut-a-rug, pull-the-rug pattern—flirting with romance, then slipping away from the rosy horizon again—undercuts the usual unreality of the musical.
Chazelle also plays with LA’s unreality, and surreality, from a Prius gag to Sebastian’s wry remark that, here, “they worship everything and they value nothing.”
And when do dreams deferred become dreams dashed? Stone, so winningly winsome as striving Mia, is close to giving up after countless wasted auditions; Sebastian may be too stubborn for his own good—can he risk being such a purist for a dying music-form (not unlike the musical genre)?
Finding moments joyous, intimate, and rueful, La La Land, grounded in serious questions about artistic aspirations and sacrifices, whirls from ensemble number to re-imagined aqua-musical (the camera whirls in the centre of the pool) to duet to leitmotif to instrumental reprise without missing an emotional beat. And in its magical ending, art—song, music, film—re-imagines two lives, spun together for one moment, just hanging on the edge of that final, plaintive note.
Directed by Damien Chazelle