BY JACK DAVIS, STAFF WRITER ’18
La La Land is unlike any other film that’s been made. To call Damien Chazelle’s new masterpiece idyllic would simply be wrong, real is a much more fitting description.
As the New York Times says, “‘La La Land’ is a visual poem and a timely escape from all the tension and traffic and division in our lives. You don’t have to think much; you just watch it.”
Chazelle doesn’t bother to offer up a story where from beginning to end, you know that the characters facing conflict will reach their end goal, because that would make the end result generic and boring, a recycled trademark of many Hollywood movies today. And that’s exactly why La La Land stands out. If your reason for not seeing La La Land thus far has been that it’s a musical, go and see it right now. Yes, right now. While La La Land is in fact a musical, it is not dominated by the numerous musical numbers. These beautiful, extravagant, insanely unique numbers contribute to the story just as much as the acting.
We see Emma Stone’s struggles as an actress. Her feelings, however, are not shown to us through dialogue; they are shown to us through elaborate dances and singing. Ryan Gosling’s struggle to keep his integrity, to not sell out, remain true to his dream and keep jazz alive. These are shown by somber piano solos, or soft singing duets set to the backdrop of the California sky. Damien Chazelle has found a way to make music and dialogue interchangeable. And the musical numbers are more than just beautiful performances. Through their repeated, specific placement in the story, one song’s repeat at the end might symbolize nostalgia from a better time, or put emphasis on poor decisions. Essentially, he has created a new language. Not to mention the story!
Ryan Gosling does not simply play a down on his luck jazz pianist who has an appreciation for the beauty and the depth of jazz; he is that character. He lives and breathes the life of this person. Those hindered by Gosling’s rep as a more or less numb actor (myself included) are proven dead wrong by this film. The different stages of Gosling’s character, trying and failing then trying again to keep his integrity and accomplish his dream, they feel so real, you don’t feel like you’re watching an actor, or even a movie. You feel like you are watching a man in a classic boy meets girl story, with a few more road bumps.
The same can be said, if not more so, for Emma Stone. Neither Emma Stone nor Ryan Gosling would be the first in mind to lead on any normal director’s short list, but Chazelle is by no standard a normal director, if his 6 Golden Globes and 14 Academy Award nominations are any demonstration. Gosling and Stone are the best and only pair that could have made this movie what it was-the chemistry is simply indescribable. Emma Stone plays a barista on the Warner Bros. lot who has aspirations to become an actress. She is currently discouraged by the fact that she is the one serving coffee to the film stars, not the one being served (maybe that will change by the end?). Also adding laughter to pain is the fact that the people she crafts her schedule to audition for have more interest in their smartphone or a sandwich than her attempts to accomplish her dream.
Ryan Gosling is in a situation that parallels Emma Stone’s struggles. He wants to bring back Jazz, or at least restore it to its former glory, he wants to found his own club one day where he can play “whatever he wants, whenever he wants.” But, he is in the position where he is fired from an unsteady gig because he doesn’t play all traditional Christmas songs as opposed to his niche, jazz. When Gosling is fired, he implores his boss exhaustedly, emphasizing the holiday decorations, and the boss replies emotionless that he sees that and to have good luck in the new year.
This is the kind of world the two live in, one none of us want to truly enter, where our dreams and wishes are met with conflict and reality. This isn’t a normal love story, to say the least, the two barely know or like each other the first couple of times they meet. The first time they see eachother, Stone goes to compliment Gosling on his skill after he is fired, and he rudely bumps past her. Usually, a movie will have a great beginning and an alright ending, or an average beginning and an incredible, thought provoking ending, but La La Land has both. And maybe the ending isn’t a crescendo of deafening Hollywood happiness, but it is beautiful.