There’s a scene in LA LA LAND, Damien Chazelle‘s much lauded, record breaking musical, where Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), a pianist dreaming of opening a jazz club, introduced jazz music to Mia (Emma Stone) a down-on-her-luck aspiring actress that he met a few nights before. He got so excited, his eyes were gleaming with joy, and even got offended when Mia compare it to a mere background music. And suddenly, I saw myself. I’m not saying I’m a jazz musician/purist dreaming of saving the genre or anything. I’m saying that I saw his passion. I saw the passion on the way he talked about the things he loves and he adores. That’s me, that’s how I feel when talk about films. I love discussing films very much, I even made a blog about it (duh). And from that moment, I am sure that this is a movie for me.
A lot has been said about LA LA LAND. Some people have already championed it as one of the best modern musicals ever, but there are some who do not share the same opinions. ‘It’s pure movie magic’ was the exact words I uttered right after I got out of the theater. All the details from this film hit all the right notes. From the incredibly fresh and addictive music by Justin Hurwitz (& co.), to the phenomenally-choreographed dances by Mandy Moore (not the singer). From the the colorful settings of LA, to the performances of Gosling and Stone, both individually and together. I do believe Gosling and Stone conjured one of the best and most believable screen-chemistry I’ve seen in a while. But the true champion was Damien Chazelle, the mastermind behind it, who succeeded in turning his lifelong dream on making this film into reality. He have accomplished on mixing and fusing all the right ingredients, in the right amount, to make this very dazzling treat.
You can call it a musical, a romance film, a love story, a film about jazz, a tribute to musical, etc, etc. But if you strip all of that, you will end up finding that this film is actually about passion and dreams…which also happens to be a musical. Behind that razzle-dazzle surface, there’s a genuinely big heart on its sleeves. Even though, the story itself is actually not that groundbreaking. Two aspiring artists torn between romance and chasing their dreams? We’ve traveled that road before. But I’ve never seen it presented as dazzling as this. One of the things that I love about LA LA LAND is the relatable characters that hit a little too close to home.
Sebastian was depicted as a very passionate guy, and an idealist one. Some people have criticized the character as obnoxious and pretentious. He even was guilty of ‘mainsplaining’ and being called a white savior. I think he acted like that, because of his passion, too much of a passion. Which I think made him more real, more grounded (whether it was intentionally written or not). His decision to play for a Keith (John Legend)’s modern jazz band was an interesting turn for his situation. His decision to join was not because he wanted to, but because he needed to. A little compromise for the bigger dream. Some people think that the whole Keith’s band shenanigans was Chazelle labeling the modern jazz as a bad influence to the legacy. But I didn’t think that was what he intended. He never really antagonized Keith and his band. Keith was happy with the kind of music he’s playing, and he never even forced Sebastian to play with his band. And that’s the point; it’s not about which style of jazz is better, it’s a matter of preference, and Sebastian’s and Keith’s preferences were not the same.
And as for Mia, I admit that her character was not as fully developed as Sebastian. And that’s one tiny bit flaw that I can actually forgive (well, Stone’s adorably delightful performance might helped a little). But her resilient, willingness to succeed, and hopeful nature made her the more optimistic dreamer than her grounded counterpart, which made an interesting parallel between the two (in which ironically they ‘traded places’ near the end). And her eventual shattered confidence actually strengthen the bittersweetness of the epilogue (I’ll try my best not to spoil much). The film did not want to emphasize that all of our dreams will come true. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t. But what I got from the epilogue was that achieving success takes time. And it will happen in the right time. You have to pay your dues, you have to make friends with failures, learn from your mistakes. And the most important thing; there is no victory without sacrifice. You cannot have everything. And even if you can, not everything all at once.
It really showed on screen that it took a lot of hearts, guts and efforts to make LA LA LAND, yet somehow it felt so effortlessly charming. Hats off to Chazelle for making the most entertaining films I’ve seen all year, and probably my personal favorite. I haven’t seen enough musicals and old Hollywood films to deem this film as a tribute. I’m also not an expert on jazz, to state that this film is Chazelle paying homage. But for all I care, he made this film for me; a guy who still has doubts, someone who longs for chances, and a fool who dreams. [A]