The genre of musicals has been fairly absent in Hollywood for a long time. The genre had its golden age in the 1940s and 50s with a brief resurgence in the 1960s. However, after World War II, the popularity of musicals declined as times changed and more realistic and grounded films filled the mainstream. It’s seems that the likelihood of an old school, MGM style musical being made today, and actually being successful or good even, would be very small. And it is. Which is why I am astonished at La La Land .
La La Land is the new film by director Damien Chazelle, starring Ryan Gosling as a jazz pianist ‘Sebastian’ and Emma Stone as a young actress ‘Mia.’ Sebastian and Mia are young artists who are incredibly passionate about what they do and are trying to ‘make it’ in Los Angeles. Sebastian is someone who loves jazz to an obsessive degree but is tired of only getting jobs where he plays Jingle Bells and aspires to open his own jazz club where he can play whatever he wants. Mia is an actress who goes to many auditions but gets no work and she works at a coffee shop on the Warner Brothers lot. Their struggle for artistic fulfillment is what brings them together.
This film is Damien Chazelle’s first film after Whiplash, which was my favorite film of 2014, and it did not disappoint. Chazelle’s direction over La La Land is masterful. Everything in the film feels meticulously crafted and handled with care. The opening scene, which is also the first musical number, is one of the best opening to a film I’ve seen this year. The musical numbers do not feel out of place or unnatural in this film. Scenes seamlessly transition into magical and musical set pieces and dances. All the performances were incredible including John Legend who is acting for the first time in this film. And perhaps my favorite part of La La Land was the music. Justin Hurwitz wrote and composed all the music for the film and is absolutely beautiful. It showed an amazing range of depth and emotion. It have off the feeling of elation and also a bit of melancholy.
La La Land also looks absolutely gorgeous with rich and vibrant colors and set pieces evoking many classic MGM musicals. One of the reasons for this look is that Chazelle chose to shoot this film celluloid using the Panavision Millennium XL2. It was also presented in Cinemascope. This allowed for shallower depth of field, a broader exposure latitude, and richer colors. If you don’t understand what that means, it’s basically what gave La La Land that ‘magical’ old school look.
There were many great films that came out in 2016, but La La Land is my favorite film of the year. La La Land was a great film about dreams and dreamers that reminded me why I love movies so much. I would highly recommend this film to anyone. See you at the movies!