From its enthralling opening dance scene to the heart-wrenching closing dream sequence, Damien Chazelle’s latest directorial effort, “La La Land,” has won the hearts of moviegoers nationwide. Its impressive box office success is accompanied by a record-shattering seven Golden Globes and fourteen Academy Awards. With Chazelle’s sophomore production of “Whiplash” being one of my favorite films, I felt a certain degree of skepticism, tinged with undeniable hope, that “La La Land” would meet the standards set by its predecessor.
Only a few minutes into the film, all my reservations vanished as I beheld actors dancing in marvelous synchronization on a Los Angeles highway, doing grand jetés over cars in a stunningly choreographed and expertly stitched dance number. Nearly two hours later, shortly before the ending credits, tears welled up in my eyes as struggling-actress-turned-celebrated movie-star Mia (Emma Stone) envisioned the carefree life she could’ve shared with former boyfriend, Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), had they both dialed down on their theatrical and musical aspirations. Sebastian’s nostalgic rendition of “City of Stars” plays over this highlight scene, “Mia’s Dream Sequence,” a culmination of the emotional twists and turns Mia and Sebastian endure in pursuit of their lifelong ambitions.
While the beginning and end of “La La Land” are undoubtedly feature scenes of the movie, all that transpires in between Sebastian and Mia’s comedic highway exchange and the star-crossed lovers’ poignant farewell at “Seb’s” leaves equally powerful sentiments. The glamorous costume designs and upbeat energy accompanying the song, “Someone in the Crowd,” evoke a surge of optimism for Mia’s future breakthrough; Mia and Sebastian’s seamless transition from charming singsong banter to a one-take tap routine in “A Lovely Night” elicits instant fondness for the two protagonists; and Mia’s ominous confusion over Sebastian’s abandonment of jazz for pop in his performance of “Start a Fire” relays a sense of unease over a divergence of paths. Throughout, my ticket stub to “La La Land” granted me entry onto a roller coaster of emotions, one that allowed the actors’ wishes and feelings to resonate with me to such an extent that at many stops, I felt the need to cry with them, laugh with them, even dance with them.
In the end, “La La Land” has most certainly matched, if not eclipsed, the cinematographic caliber of Chazelle’s earlier successes. His idiosyncratic spin on a boy-meets-girl tale perfectly touches upon so many stirring themes all at once: the vigor of youthful ambition, the chaos of passion and love, the weight of profound sacrifice, and perhaps most importantly, the struggle to define oneself in an industry resistant to change, particular about looks and taste, and ruthless to those seeking entry.
All in all, if you have not yet seen “La La Land,” I urge you to buy a carton of popcorn (and pack a box of tissues if you want to be proactive), to experience for yourself the wonder of Chazelle’s musical masterpiece that can only be done justice by your local big screen. And, as you recline back in your chair and anticipate how the film’s buoyant beginning, set on Cloud Nine as much as a highway, could possibly unravel to a melancholic and wistful end, keep in mind a few hints: a beautifully crafted original soundtrack and Stone and Gosling’s remarkable on-screen chemistry are only vehicles of execution for a realistic glimpse into the intimate reveries of the young and the hopeful. By the end, I’d expect you, too, to see value in Chazelle’s spearheading a movement that’s bringing musicals back, one that’s making us all gaga for “La La Land.”