‘La La Land’: Ode to the Dreamer

Damien Chazelle lights up the big screen with ‘La La Land,’ a colorful feat in-line with Hollywood’s oldest tricks in the music book.

‘La La Land’ tiptoes around a familiar song and dance, but does so through visuals as enduring as its love arc.

la la land
Photo courtesy of Steven Zang.

Here’s to the fools who dream. La La Land, the newest feature from director Damien Chazelle (Whiplash), is a shining emblem of old and new. The musical romance walks the perfect line of symmetry, blending homage to Hollywood’s golden age of musicals and a vividly modern ambition for the stars. However, the film truly finds its footing among its strong imagery, capturing both the eye and the faintest of hearts. It’s colorful, it’s inviting and it soars with pure enjoyment.

From a distance, La La Land has the setup of any archetypal L.A. love story: We meet Mia Dolan (Emma Stone) amidst a long streak of failed acting auditions and an unrelenting barista gig. Not long after, Sebastian Wilder (Ryan Gosling) strolls into the picture, with a jazz obsession as passionate as his desire to open a club. When the two share a chance encounter in the hidden depths of the strip, an unstoppable fondness springs between the two lovebirds.

As time progresses, nevertheless, the shadows of their aspirations begin to overcrowd the room. In the end, Mia and Sebastian must decide in the ultimate sacrifice: each other or their dreams?

La La Land is as whimsical as it is eye candy, for Chazelle has created a vibrant sub-realm in the monochrome realities of Hollywood. It plays off of the musical genre with ease, managing the leap of faith from old vaudeville dazzle to a more contemporary mindset. With incredible performances from Stone and Gosling, it’s almost difficult not to smile at the sheer majesty of it all.

Furthermore, the film plays to the beat of another invincible force: the camera. Cinematographer Linus Sandgren (American Hustle) has an energetic knack for making his tool into a major character, altering La La Land into his own personal playground. From an opening traffic ballad (which will live long past us) to a heart-wrenchingly beautiful epilogue, the visuals ideally complement the immensity of Justin Hurwitz’s encapsulating score.

“As the movie progressed, I enjoyed it more and more,” said Jenna Stuiso, 20. “At first, I felt as if La La Land was going to be extremely cheesy, but it wasn’t. Visually, it was incredible. Overall, the way that the story played out had me thinking about it for days, which is always a good sign.”

La La Land is ultimately euphoric. This musical brings ingenuity to a neglected art, telling a quintessential love story with such an alluring approach. Chazelle, hence, reminds audiences that a nostalgic eye doesn’t necessarily resolve in any kind of remake or “-quel.” Yesteryear is a foundation for better things to come, bigger shoes to fill, and more songs to sing.

In other words, keep dreaming; you might just end up with a strong contender for Best Picture. La La Land is now playing in select movie theaters nationwide. Some more local venues include AMC Clifton Commons and even Bow Tie Clairidge Cinema in the heart of Montclair, N.J. For a list of even more theaters and show-times, visit fandango.com today.

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