Horns honking and radio dials switching set the scene as “La La Land” opens. A Los Angeles expressway holds traffic at a complete stop. Suddenly, a young woman breaks out of her car and starts singing and dancing to the song, “Another Day of Sun,” which her radio was blaring. The atmosphere transitions from miffed impatience to heartwarming solidarity as musicians, singers and dancers get out of their cars to perform a number about passionately chasing your dreams in Hollywood, regardless of failure or almost-loves. The scene ends with everyone getting back into their cars, and horns honking again. The opening number epitomizes the film: romance, career endeavors, eventual failure of either love or career. These are all textbook characteristics of almost every romance movie but, “La La Land” will charm you with its catchy songs, dance numbers and artful displays.
“La La Land,” written and directed by Damien Chazelle, follows both Mia (Emma Stone) and Sebastian’s (Ryan Gosling) lives as they go about their days as an aspiring actress and jazz enthusiast looking for a business opportunity. Mia moved to Los Angeles from Boulder City, Nevada to make it big in the movies, following in her aunt’s footsteps while Sebastian sought his dream to open his own jazz club. They meet and fall in love while in the process of finding success in their careers, all while dancing and sometimes singing.
This film’s identity as a musical is what made it worth watching. Not all the dance numbers have lyrics in the music, which make for more powerful scenes for the actors involved. The importance of music throughout the film also make the silences that much more profound and pull viewers in. The music is such a constant that when it stops, it carries the weight of the emotion in the actors’ dialogue and hits you right in the heart.
Certain scenes would normally be unbearably cliché, but they are done so tastefully, that they will win you over. The way the musical numbers at times stray completely from reality add to the art of the movie. In one scene, Mia and Sebastian are literally lifted off the ground while dancing, although this was not necessary for the story-line, it added a charm to the performance that is not easily forgotten. Another scene, where Mia’s thoughts drift to a montage between fond memory and all that could have been, is a prime example of how “La La Land” emphasizes how the way something is displayed is more important than what is being said. The montage includes a variety of colors and different avenues through which the actors perform an alternate life for the two main characters. It turns from the actors themselves dancing to silhouettes of them and many more different styles of art incorporating their interests.
As for the story-line, it was predictable and flat. Like most romantically themed movies, the main characters’ first interactions are marked with conflict, first in a car as Sebastian passes Mia, and again at the restaurant he works in when she wants to compliment him, but he walks passed her without a second look. The two cross paths repeatedly until they begin to exchange clever remarks, eventually falling in love. She leaves her current boyfriend to follow her heart, all run-of-the-mill components of a romantic movie. They do not end up together because success gets in the way of their romance, as they choose their love of their careers over their love for each other. Nonetheless, “La La Land” redeems itself through its musical and visual vibrancy.