It’s a musical, it’s a love story, it’s got songs and dances and sweet vintage clothes, it’s modern and fresh — and yet the story is timeless. It’s La La Land, the movie that Entertainment Weekly called the best film of 2016, and which just swept the Golden Globes to earn a historical record of seven nominations.
Some say the movie, with a tagline of “here’s to the fools that dream,” is just the balm that our country needs. I think the appealing truth and beauty of the story goes even deeper than that, but it is made universally delightful by the musical, magical way in which the story is told.
From the opening scene, the audience knows this is no everyday movie. It starts unpretentiously, with two lanes of traffic on a hot Los Angeles highway backed up for miles. The camera pans across to stop at the car of a young woman wearing large sunglasses and a 1950s headscarf, who sings the opening lines of a lighthearted, big band song. She then steps out of her car, spins around in her polka dot dress, and throws her heart into her song. In minutes, she is joined by the other drivers, spinning, twirling, tapping, laughing, as they sing about “Another Day of Sun.” The impeccably choreographed dance had everyone in the theater smiling as the performers spun and danced beside their cars down the LA highway.
It is on this highway that we also meet Mia (played by Emma Stone) and Sebastian (played by Ryan Gosling). The two are struggling artists in LA, dreaming of making it big, just like most of the rest of the city and many dreamers sitting in the audience, too. Mia is a barista and an aspiring actress with dozen of unfruitful auditions under her belt, and Sebastian is a passionate jazz aficionado who plays holiday jingles at a local restaurant to make ends meet. They have a couple of memorable encounters before finally connecting after a Beverly Hills party — a conversation that has its own song and dance routines that are delightful and genuine, completely perfect while still feeling fresh and innocent.
It’s a magical story, where the characters can suddenly fly up to the stars as they lean in for their first kiss. But who hasn’t felt that way when they are falling in love? The heart has wings! My husband commented that the movie reminded him of Moulin Rouge with its touches of fantasy, and song, and dance. I agree, but this is the sweeter, gentler side of the fantastical musical spectrum.
As the two fall in love, the story shifts to follow their pursuit of their dreams. As with any young person full of ambitions and aspirations, there comes a point where one has to chose between making money now, or putting yourself out there one more time, failure or not. Both Mia and Sebastian are unsure what matters most: being true to their original dreams, or tweaking them for practicality’s sake (at least until the right door opens). They also don’t know where their own love story fits into their future, and if their love can survive whatever their careers — or failures of them — might require. As a viewer, I cringed at Mia and Sebastian’s arguments because they were so real, hitting so close to home. Choosing to love and choosing to carving out a “successful” life for yourself — that’s risky business. We can all relate.
And so in the end what makes La La Land such a success isn’t just the music or the dance steps, the love story or the LA moonlight. It’s that it tells a true story, a story about love, and dreams, and choices, and the what-could-have-beens in the world of realities. Even when you have to suspend belief for dances through the stars! There is a good story well told here.
Emma Stone, with her eclectic beauty and independent spirit, and Ryan Gosling, with his definitive charm and angst, make the perfect pair to tell this story, too. Add to that the beautiful songs, like “City of Stars” (which will stay in your head for days afterwards), and the catchy dance tunes that set your feet tapping in the theater, and you have a winner. Don’t miss it!
Movie times: Click here
Genre: Musical Drama, Romantic Comedy
Directors: Damien Chazelle
Stars: Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, John Legend
Running Time: 2 hours 8 minutes