La La Land
La La Land chronicles a year and some change in the lives of an aspiring actor and musician. They meet, they fall in love, and they support each other in their pursuit of dreams.
Immediately, the film utilizes genre tropes to craft a clever and stylish opening. In addition to introducing the setting of Los Angeles, it sets the tone for the rest of the film. It is almost as if the film is speaking directly to the audience, declaring, “This is a musical, turn back now if you don’t like it”.
The musical aspect of the film is handled well, for the most part. The songs are catchy and add the necessary impact required, both dramatic and comedic. My one gripe about the musical aspect is that it is clear that this film relies on nostalgia, and pays tribute to classical films and musicals of Hollywood past. That is fine but there were a few points where I blurted out “Really? Okay.” Look, I know going into a musical there is a certain suspension of disbelief required by the audience to enjoy it. It’s a musical. Perhaps it is me being overly cynical, but it could have been turned back a bit at some points. To those still wondering, yes, you will get the full musical treatment here.
What I enjoyed the most about the film was director Damien Chazelle’s use of music as a motif throughout. Past the obvious repetitions one would hear in a musical, he uses the pieces almost as narrative callbacks, taking the viewer back and forward again and again. It would be appropriate to assume that the use of music in the film reflects a composer's use of coda or da capo in their work. Whatever the terminology is, it leaves for a nice conclusion with an extra flourish that will leave most pleased.
The romance between the two leads is very hollywood. I would say this is the other weakness of the film. For something that was portrayed as so magical, the depictions of the couple’s inevitable conflict and drama seem a little too contrived. Thankfully, the resulting aftermath is handled deftly, but much like the heavy-handedness in Whiplash, La La Land also suffers from it.
Damien Chazelle does a stylistic 180 from his previous film Whiplash. Where Whiplash portrays characters reaching their dream through the chase of perfection resulting in self-destruction, La La Land, has the characters feed off of each other and work together to push themselves forwards. One may hear the echoes of The Power of Love in such a setup, but the end result is far more grounded than the films it is paying tribute to.