Do work or politics or general wintertime gloominess got you down? Then do I have the remedy for you. It's called La La Land, and I want each of my seven loyal readers to go out and see it immediately. It is indeed the perfect antidote for whatever January blues you might have.
La La Land is the musical story of Mia (Emma Stone) and Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), two Los Angeles dreamers who meet and of course fall for each other. What follows is a real cinematic treat and truly the purest and most positive form of escapism we are capable of producing in this century.
Yes, La La Land is a musical. But it is not the Rogers-and-Hammerstein, spectacle-over-substance, song-and-dance cavalcade many think of when they hear "musical." No, it is more of what might happen if Truman Capote and Duke Ellington wrote a musical together: smart characters, smart music, keen drama, and more than a little nostalgia. I do not know of another musical with which I can accurately compare it.
So let's talk about those elements. Our characters have what many musical characters lack: that is, meaningful substance. Yes, they have fairly simple motivations when it comes down to it, but underneath that are traits that really resonate, that make them stay in your mind. You could tell me more about the characters than they have told you, and I think that really says something.
The music, composed by Justin Hurwitz, does owe much the great jazz composers, to Gershwin and Ellington, but never feels dated. Like all good jazz, it simply exists, outside of time, while being fully able to transport the listener anywhere it pleases. There are great, hummable tunes, as well as more subtle, expressive material. And it all wonderfully helps to shape the movie, acting at times almost on its own, as its own entity. It is music that brings Sebastian and Mia together, and it continually shapes their relationship. And Hurwitz' score is more than up to the challange.
Finally, much of what makes La La Land what it is is a fair helping of nostalgia. But not the kind that merely pines for what no longer is (or necessarily was)--it is more the Capotian variety, where one is convinced that what is longed for still actually exists somewhere. It manages somehow to look back and to the future in one breath. The film's color-saturated Los Angeles is LA as the dreamers know it, a place still capable of flight and fancy, of redemption in rejection. It is as fervent a love letter to that city as Manhattan is to its, a kind of elevated magic realism that can only be truly accessed in a dark theatre illuminated by the celluloid image. It is a wonderful experience.
La La Land convinces us, almost from frame one and despite our cynical 21st century tendencies, that dreaming is okay. It more than any other right now is the film most ideally suited to counter the negative around us. It is what great escapist cinema is: more than just a release from your troubles for a couple of hours, a release that offers a renewed perspective and the idea of what could be possible. With the added bonus of songs to whistle on the way home.
La La Land features Emma Stone, Ryan Gosling, and John Legend, and is rated PG-13 for a little swearsing.
by Chase Harrison