Tuesday, January 17, 2017

La La Land




Written and directed by Damien Chazelle, La La Land is the story of an aspiring actress who moves to Los Angeles where she meets a jazz pianist as they fall in love while trying to find success together in Hollywood. The film is a mixture of fantasy and reality as it play into the hopes and dreams of two people trying to make it in the city of dreams. Starring Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, John Legend, Rosemarie DeWitt, and J.K. Simmons. La La Land is a ravishing and evocative film from Damien Chazelle.

Set in the city of dreams that is Los Angeles/Hollywood, the film is an exploration of two people trying to reach their dreams as they struggle to make it as they lean on each other unsure if they both can succeed. While it’s a story that is often common with many old-school ideas of Hollywood of people going there and wanting to be part of that world. It is told in a very stylistic fashion as it play into this conflict of fantasy and reality which would blend in some respects for its two central protagonists in the jazz pianist Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) and the aspiring actress Mia (Emma Stone) as they both go through many trials and tribulations in their journey to find fame and happiness. Damien Chazelle’s screenplay is mainly told in the span of an entire year structured by season where it begins with winter as the two are first seen in a traffic jam with Sebastian having road rage.

The two would meet again later on as it would play into an element of fantasy but then reality would return as they wouldn’t see each other again until Mia attends a party where Sebastian is playing in an 80s cover band. The two would forge a friendship that eventually becomes a romantic relationship bonded by their wishes to succeed where Mia wants to become an actress and succeed while Sebastian is hoping to open a jazz club where more authentic jazz music is played. Yet, they also have to contend with some form of reality whether Mia has to go numerous audition and cope with failure and rejection while Sebastian is forced to face some truth about the world of jazz where his ideas of the music is becoming extinct. Once the story reaches towards summer and fall, that specter of reality would come more and more into play but there is still some glimmer of what both Sebastian and Mia want for themselves and each other.

Chazelle’s direction isn’t just stylish but also play against many of the conventional aspects of modern-day cinema in favor of something that is more traditionalist and harkening back to the cinema of the past. The film’s opening sequence and musical number is a great example of what Chazelle is going for. It is set in a traffic jam in Los Angeles which lead to people singing as the usage of wide and medium shots capture the scope of what is happening as it’s all done in one entire take with a tracking shot without the need to cut. Many of the musical numbers would be presented in that similar approach as it doesn’t just play against some of the elements of what the genre had become but also creating something that is more dream-like and with a sense of fantasy. Aiding Chazelle in the dancing and how the choreography would play into the story is choreographer Mandy Moore who would provide moments of dance that has a sense of movement that help establish what is going on where it can be dazzling and intricate or just simple and somber.

The non-musical moments are still just as vital not only in playing to the story but also have the sense of intimacy as it relate to the conflicts that Sebastian and Mia are both going through. Especially in the film’s second half where they don’t just encounter failure but also what people will do to be successful. One noted montage sequence of Mia trying to do something to kick-start her own career while Sebastian would do something as a way to survive would show two people who love and care for each other going into diverging paths. The film’s third act set in the fall would be a moment where it is about facing not just reality head-on but also see if there is some kind of hope that can emerge. Notably as Chazelle would create something that mixes fantasy and reality into a scene that is just powerful which would be followed a more dazzling sequence towards the end of the film as it play into hopes and dreams of those who want something so bad to succeed on their own terms. Overall, Chazelle creates a majestic yet enthralling film about two people trying to make it in the city of dreams.

Cinematographer Linus Sandgren does amazing work with the film‘s cinematography from the way he captures every ounce of color in some of the dance sequences in day and night as well as the way some of the jazz clubs and restaurants are lit along with the gorgeous scene inside and outside of the Griffith Observatory. Editor Tom Cross does brilliant work with the editing as it doesn‘t play by modern-day editing rules as it favors something that is straightforward with some stylish montages and rhythmic cutting that play into some of the music. Production designer David Wasco, with set decorator Sandy Reynolds-Wasco and art director Austin Gorg, does excellent work with the design of the apartment homes of Sebastian and Mia as well as some of places they go to as well as the jazz club that Sebastian likes to hang out and the movie theater they would visit one night.

Costume designer Mary Zophres does incredible work with the costumes from the design and gorgeous colors of the dresses that Mia and the women wear as well as the look of the clothes for some of the dancers in the film. Visual effects supervisors Chris LeDoux, Tim LeDoux, and John L. Weckworth do fantastic work with the visual effects such as the floating dance sequence inside the Griffith Observatory and other sequences that help play into this world of fantasy. Sound designer/editor Ai-Ling Lee and sound editor Mildred Iatrou do superb work with the sound in the way some of the live music is presented as well as some of the sparse elements in the sound to play into the non-musical moments.

The film’s music by Justin Hurwitz is phenomenal as its score is a mixture of jazz and orchestral music to play into that air of excitement but also the dramatic elements of the film. The songs also help as most of them are written by Hurwitz and the duo of Benj Pasek and Justin Paul that help play into the situations and moods the characters are in while another original song written by Hurwitz, Marius de Vries, John Stephens, and Angelique Cinelu is a reflection of the kind of music that Sebastian doesn’t want to be a part of as the entire music score and soundtrack is a highlight of the film.

The casting by Deborah Aquila and Tricia Wood is terrific as it feature some notable small roles and appearances from Josh Pence as a brother of Mia’s boyfriend early in the film, the trio of Callie Hernandez, Sonoya Mizuno, and Jessica Rothe as Mia’s roommates, Meagan Fay as Mia’s mother, Tom Everett Scott as a man named David who appears late in the film, Finn Wittrock as Mia’s boyfriend early in the film in Greg, and J.K. Simmons in a superb cameo appearance as a restaurant owner named Bill who wants Sebastian to play the music as it is. Rosemary DeWitt is excellent as Sebastian’s older sister Laura who tries to ensure her brother about the realities of the world but also hope that he can succeed. John Legend is brilliant as Sebastian’s old high school classmate Keith as a musician who leads a very popular and successful jazz-pop where he wants Sebastian to be a part of as a source of income.

Finally, there’s the duo of Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone is spectacular performances in their respective roles as Sebastian Wilder and Mia Dolan. Gosling brings that air of frustration and determination into someone who is an ardent traditionalist towards jazz as he tries to do whatever he can to survive no matter how humiliating it can be. Stone provides that humility to her own role as a young woman that is just trying to succeed through audition after audition while displaying that air of charm that is so intoxicating. Gosling and Stone together have this chemistry that is just riveting to watch from how they sing and dance with each other to the moments where they cope with their own failures and desire to succeed.

La La Land is an outstanding film from Damien Chazelle that features sensational performances from Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone. Featuring beautiful visuals, an evocative music soundtrack, top-notch technical work, and a story that is definitely appealing in its conflict of reality and fantasy. It’s a film that doesn’t just create something that is entertaining enough for the audiences but offers a whole lot more about the dreams and hope of two people in the city of dreams. In the end, La La Land is a magnificent film from Damien Chazelle.

Damien Chazelle Films: (Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench) - Whiplash

© thevoid99 2017

1 comment:

Brittani Burnham said...

Great review! I'm glad you loved this.