La La Land may evoke memories of past Oscar favorite, The Artist, taking a modern and romantic stroll through the world of old Hollywood and a “dying” form of cinema. For The Artist, it was the art of the silent film and one star’s transition into talkies (movies with sound) but La La Land is Damien Chazelle’s latest ode to music and film, a reverie into the world of jazz music and classic musicals like Singin’ In The Rain, another Oscar contender. After the wild critical success of Whiplash at such a young age, he was in the enviable yet equally terrifying position of being able to make a project of passion. He once again gave us a piercing look into the bleeding hearts of artists and dreamers which, as of right now has best picture buzz swarming around it like bees to anyone sitting outside trying to eat breakfast in peace.
La La Land is a romantic comedy musical (don’t stop reading just yet) about a jazz musician (keep going, trust me) and an actress trying to make their way through the unforgiving climate of art in Los Angeles. As a wolf in sheep’s clothing might fool you into mistaking the softness for comfort, La La Land lulls you in with immense beauty while laying bare the pain in the very status quo it admires.
The film’s passage of time is split into the four seasons as we take a ride on the slippery slopes of chasing your dreams in LA, mirroring the conditions of the world our two starry eyed artists are hoping to break into as well as the constant evolution of themselves both as individuals and as a couple. While the very mention of following your dreams can become tedious and hopelessly entangled with maxims and naiveté, the idea of contributing what you can to a field where your soul must be laid bare isn’t as grandiose as it seems. Anyone can contribute to society in simple ways, even complex yet emotionally distant ways, but it’s the artists that throw themselves into the fire and ask you to judge how well they burn. To put your emotions on screen, paper, canvas, or whatever it may be, is to expose vulnerabilities with full knowledge that recipients will have to judge and decide whether they’re worth paying attention to or not, to reject or accept your deepest self.
Even more difficult than being judged is the act of requesting the judgment, “who am I to contribute to the same medium that Ernest Hemingway made his mark on, whom would I be to consider my work worth watching when someone can throw on a Martin Scorsese film and fill up the same amount of time,” you might say. Only those that would implode into a black hole if they couldn’t create something end up being the creators.
Our characters embody the themes of the story enough to mirror the many thoughts of the audience while still maintaining originality in the personas, almost as if moving to LA would have you run into them on the street and you’d have a lot to talk about.
The film’s convictions seemed to be that of a time traveling artisan who would bleed for the chance to entertain you, to soothe your restless spirit by playing with the emotional arts but is unwilling to bend to the mundane guarantees society can promise like survival and security. I even found myself totally forgetting the time period of the film was present day, being alarmed when a phone would ring or a laptop was whipped out. This teleportation to the dreamscape of LA and the color palette dominated by simple primary colors brings us into the world with an attitude of simplicity masquerading as insurmountable complexity.
We desire the success of the endlessly charming couple, we wish for the fairy tale to simultaneously surprise us yet follow the path we are expecting, and Chazelle leads us through the tale that satisfies the deepest hungers while holding onto the glamorous nostalgia that keeps old Hollywood alive in our hearts.
Now for the spoilers. The way the film plays out, without pulling punches on the harshness of auditions and the simultaneous tasteless disrespect and reverence for art forms, the dreamlike atmosphere almost felt like a mistress, she would guiltily stick around for a while and disappear when needed most. At the core of the film this did play out in an ending that will expertly break any mildly romantic heart. When we see that the relationship wasn’t meant to be we also see that other dreams were made true. The professionals will say “we did it but we lost things along the way.” The lovers might say “we lost everything along the way.” I say the harsh reality was embraced by the film but the larger theme eclipsed “reality” to bring us a vision with truth and fantasy holding hands.
The power of film is simply the power of the viewer, to cry when Emma Stone cries, to feel the electric shock of inspiration when Ryan Gosling exposes the delicate heart of jazz. No matter the form of art, a reason to love La La Land isn’t just about fun songs with dance numbers and good-looking people jabbing at each other with smart dialogue, it’s about the absolute telling of why artists do what they do, and why it is so hard to keep trying. With fourteen Oscar nominations, La La Land may be poised to conform reality to fantasy once again.
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