The sprawling success of La La Land
Before all its praise and positive clamor, most average moviegoers had a tentative approach to La La Land. A musical with Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone? Can they even sing? I’m not even sure I like musicals. Why would I like this one?
It turns out, any fears audiences had would be dismissed by the end of the first act. Universal acclaim has led to the film winning seven Golden Globes, and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences presented La La Land with a whopping 14 nominations, tying the record held by 1950’s All About Eve and 1997’s Titanic.
Contemplating all of this has led to the question: what makes La La Land so successful? There are many answers to this question: the precision in editing and effects are used to communicate emotional plot points. The performances are stellar, and the energized music numbers and melodic score never feel tired. All of those individual aspects of the movie are fantastic. But while all of those pieces also make up the easy answer, the hard answer tends to have much more truth and weight.
Writer and director Damien Chazelle, only 32-years-old, deserves a considerable amount of credit for the way La La Land turned out. His background in music and jazz obviously contributes to the musical aspects, but the overall character progression and ability to direct compelling conversation between two or three characters truly stand out. His decision to bring about a dual narrative works in fluid fashion, presenting both protagonists in a favorable light but never forgets to write in imperfections. All the while, he manages to pay honest homage and appreciation, sidestepping any sense of retread, to cinema classics such as Casablanca.
Aside from the directing and overall composition, smaller elements manage to shine as well, beginning with the lively and thoughtful costume design that is clearly reminiscent of Hollywood’s musical age, even though the film is set in modern times. Linus Sandgren’s cinematography is dynamic and original with a specialization in long takes, promoting the choreography and not allowing the actors and dancers to hide behind quick editing. One finite yet important aspect to the film is the use of close-ups. Each one explores and emphasizes more than just the surface value of the specific shot. By doing so, the audience is given room to interpret and understand the various layers to characters without unnecessary exposition.
There are tons of good movies every year and yes, La La Land may just be a distinguished great one, but there is more to it that has captivated the film buff scene. So the next step in the thought process must be: well, surely a good musical can reel in an audience? Also true, but not to the tune of over $100 million at the domestic box office for an original work. Being a musical gives it more diversity, that is not enough alone to earn 14 Oscar nominations. Honestly and truly, it boils down to the very thematic content displayed in the film itself.
La La Land is a film about hope, something that can be hard to find in Hollywood and today’s society. Moreover, it provides a sort of tangibility to hope that has not been seen on screen before. Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) and Mia’s (Emma Stone) dreams and aspirations become engrossing to follow and very easy to get emotionally invested in. As the screenplay itself mentions, people care about what other people are passionate about: a microcosm explaining the film’s importance. A film that can inspire you is more than just a film, it is an experience.
It is incredibly hard to leave a screening of La La Land without feeling a little giddy. This feeling of optimism causes viewers to spread the good word about how desperately this film needs to be seen. Optimism and a willingness to reach for dreams is something that should be reinforced in friendships, relationships and daily life. La La Land reminds us of all that and brings along one of the best films of the year as well.
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