La La Land

La La Land ★★★★½

Among the films I've put in my top 5 in my end of the year list for 2016 are five films that have appealed to something personal in me. Manchester by the Sea hit home in terms of its portrayal of grief, thanks mostly to Casey Affleck's performance as Lee Chandler; Moonlight appealed to me because of its exploration of what masculinity is, and why we should get rid of the notion of a fixed, singular idea of it; Arrival showed us the necessity of language and the scientific field of the humanities, as we have to keep our understanding of ourselves in high esteem to not completely lose our minds; Swiss Army Man managed to explore introversion and the paradoxical isolation caused by contemporary social conduct in a surprisingly funny and touching way I had never seen coming.


So where does La La Land fit in, in terms of impacting me on a personal level? Well, basically because it appeals to the optimist in me. The one who dreams of becoming successful with something and learning to share my own passions with someone else, who can be as understanding as myself, a pursuit that has not been very successful by the time of writing. It is also said optimism that brought me to the University of Copenhagen to study English to begin with, with the hopes of meeting, and/or falling in love, with an institute and students with similar interests of mine. Sadly, I never encountered many students who shared my literary or cinematic passions, or at least didn't want to discuss them with me, but I am still grateful for the people I have met and/or befriended during my five and a half years there that recently culminated in me finishing my Master of Arts in English.


The reason why La La Land ended up so strongly impactful is not just the music, which is the best kind of contagious, as I couldn't stop smiling during any of the song and dance sequences throughout, but it is primarily because of Damien Chazelle's direction and writing. Accompanied by some of the year's most amazing production design and Linus Sandgren's cinematography, the camera is almost always moving, as if it mimics the style of the classic, improvisational jazz which Ryan Gosling's Sebastian adores because of its constantly changing flow. This enhances the dream-like state of every character in the film and how they aspire to fulfill their dreams of stardom, where the music is brilliantly used as expressions of each character's dreams, be it either main or supporting characters. Both Sebastian and Mia, played wonderfully by Emma Stone, want to chase their dreams in a specific way, with Sebastian latching on nostalgic/romantic views of what jazz should be, while Mia dreams of telling her own personal story. Their dialogue is great too, and it does help a lot, in terms of me liking the film, that it managed to use Flock of Seagulls' "I Ran" in an endearing manner to kickstart their romance.


I never really got the feeling that it was saying that their way of aspiring greatness was the right one, as their lack of success, in contrast to others who achieve by embracing what's in front of them, could suggest that this film just celebrates the dream of wanting to love and be loved, regardless of how you do so, so in the end, I don't buy the "Sebastian as the white savior of Jazz"-interpretation that some people have bitched and moaned about. So kudos to Chazelle in terms of writing there, and further respect to him for having that bittersweet epilogue to put the icing on this joyous cake.


If I have any complaints, I would have to say that the drama between Mia and Sebastian at the beginning of the "Fall" act could feel a bit forced, and it felt more like childish rabble than actual conflict, which seemed a bit out of tune with the rest of the film. I could see the point of it, but it could have been executed in a better way. It would have also been great to see that guy who conned Sebastian that we are told of in the beginning, as it could have established how naïveté can kill your career aspirations in L.A., as some kind of foreshadowing for their eventual, creative unhappiness during this "Fall" act. I also have to say that I wasn't completely sucked in by Ryan Gosling's singing voice, which could come off as a bit bland, and the contemporary jazz played by Keith (John Legend) and his band felt more over the top than necessary, which did make character more antagonized than I think Damien Chazelle had intended.


In conclusion, La La Land is an excellent modern musical, that hopefully can pave the way for future contemporary musicals at a more ambitious scale. I, as someone who usually don't like musicals, would definitely pick this over jukebox musicals like Moulin Rouge.

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