Gisell Says the Euphoric LA LA LAND Is A Movie For The Ages.

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FILM REVIEW: La La Land

BY GISELL BUTLER

 

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Damien Chazelle is a director that the world needs right now. Although he’s just beginning, he has molded characters and carved stories into the foundation of filmmaking and has officially joined other legendary filmmakers, pulling up a chair and comfortably seating himself at the table of cinematic history. La La Land is a beautiful daydream that lights up the screen and harkens back to the beloved Golden Age of Hollywood. With its poetic musicality and undulating dance sequences, you will willingly succumb to the shimmering spectacle of raw emotion displayed against a fiery-violet skyline of Los Angeles. The director has put his heart on the line from the beginning of this project, researching old classic films, committing to a recurring theme and staying within the boundaries of keeping his script close to its original intended form with very little changes. Studios actually turned down his ideas, wanting him to change main characters to more trendy depictions, as well as altering the narrative and ending, virtually wanting an entirely different movie. Chazelle put this project on the backburner for a while due to those obstacles with studios and those demanding him to rewrite the material. It wasn’t until after the triumph of his Award-winning Whiplash, that studios began to take notice of his novelty and filming style.

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The director, in his own way, throws up the middle finger to the Hollywood formula and the superficial, empty films which nowadays clog up the theaters and lack substance and originality. He borrows personal experiences from his own life, including his flaws and failures and explores them in his films, inviting his actors to do the same. He creates poetic art on film and doesn’t necessarily resort to giving the studios or the audience what they demand. This isn’t in poor judgment by any means. It’s invigorating, creative and needed now more than ever. This is what will make Chazelle, not just another household name, but an unstable force of nature in film. La La Land is a freeway of expression and affectionately salutes the artist hiding inside of all of us; encouraging inspiration and daring us to dream, no matter the outcome. The story stirs the senses and invites the audience on a musical stroll through an envisaged Van Gogh painting brought to life, and utilizes art and music as a springboard to underscore the film’s most tender moments. The visuals are dazzling and the stage sets are plush with starry canopies dangling overhead, lofty clouds, amber sunsets, incandescent street lights and focal spotlight on silhouettes and vignettes. The character of the scenery is buzzing with pigments and passion.

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The story is about two dreamers living in L.A. who want more out of life and for themselves. Emma Stone, who plays Mia, is a young barista who works at the Warner Brothers theater lot and wants to become a serious actress. Sebastian, played by Ryan Gosling, is a pianist, who loves jazz music and wants to own his own club one day. When they first meet, it’s under awkward circumstances, however fate continues to bring them back together and they eventually pursue a relationship with one another. The story is told in different parts. After the sunny opening number, we’re given Winter, Spring, Summer, Fall, and it concludes again in Winter. Each season showcases different stages of their lives and in their relationship with one another. The recurring theme is about the fulfillment of dreams, personal sacrifice and missed opportunities, which through the individual choices we make in different periods of our lives, bring us closer towards achieving our goals.

The songwriting is rich with honeyed symphonies, benefiting the story in ways that are unimaginable. Chazelle’s friend and musical collaborator, Justin Hurwitz, helped to create the composition for the soundtrack, along with songwriters Pasek and Paul whom penned the lyrics. The melody and verses inspire a buzz in your soul while murmuring sweet nothings in your ear, and leaving warm pitter-patters in your heart. This collaboration could not have been a more productive partnership. Together, the group created a spellbinding set list of songs which range within various degrees of emotion and will leave you swept up in a daydream of your own. The words tell a beautiful story, with such simplicity, poetic exhilaration and euphoric harmony.

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All of the actors provided their own vocals, including the main stars Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling. Their chemistry, both on camera and acoustically, is beyond perfection. I cannot imagine anyone else playing the parts of Mia (Emma Stone) and Sebastian (Ryan Gosling). Their roles might as well have been dreamt up and brought to realization with them in mind. Both actors rehearsed over a period of months in order to prepare for their roles. The widescreen scenes of Emma and Ryan dancing together during the Prius scene were filmed over one long uninterrupted take just like how old Hollywood musicals were captured. Chazelle wanted to make sure it was done this way because he wanted it to be as authentic as possible. Ryan also rehearsed on the piano every day in order to perform the piano playing scenes in the film. The cinematography done by Linus Sandgren (Joy, American Hustle) is full-flowingly lush in color and could not be more spellbinding to the eye. The atmosphere he created and the angles he used in congruence with the action taking place in the film are beautiful and capture the tone of the film seamlessly. When awards season begins, I fully expect that this film will be recognized for its majestic nostalgia and modern salutation to art and music appreciation.

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La La Land is a nickname for L.A., but also represents a person that has a detached view of life. The choice of the director to explore this idea and the symbolism behind its meaning, and thus using it in the context of a romantic musical, connects so fluidly to the plot itself. Chazelle explores many ideas in this film, but I believe a crucial part of his message is that we-as people-have become so detached from reality that we don’t seem to fully appreciate or acknowledge true art anymore. The director explored this concept through certain scenes in the movie and we see how it affects the main characters’ choices and aspirations. The director also chose to incorporate the pop cultural and historical significance of the movie Rebel Without a Cause and used famous places in and around L.A. as benchmarks throughout the journey of Sebastian and Mia’s relationship; from their budding first date to the nightclubs they visit across town. The Rialto Theater and Griffith Observatory are two examples of famous landmarks which showcase the atmosphere of the film and offer a nod of adoration and pay homage to the city with its widespread sprawl and dreamlike appeal. The director and cinematographer whole-heartedly capture the essence of its free-spirited beauty and lucidity with a meticulous eye and gentle hand. La La Land is truly a movie for the ages; metrical and magnetic, and will continue to inspire us for many generations to come.

 

FINAL WORD: StarStarStarStarStar