Damien Chazelle’s widely anticipated film La La Land has broken Golden Globe records, impressed critics, and introduced movie-goers to an exciting new side of the highly acclaimed stars Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling. It’s easy to agree that the directing and musical numbers are a feat of genius, but without them the movie would struggle to hold its own against others currently storming the box office.

The new musical follows Mia (Emma Stone) and Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), respectively an aspiring actress and struggling jazz pianist. Mia works at a coffee shop in the Warner Brothers lot, dealing with the uptight actors she hopes to one day work alongside and rushing to demeaning and uninspiring auditions in the meantime. A scene between Mia and Sebastian at a party shows Mia introducing herself as an actress, but when she reveals that she currently works in a coffee shop, Sebastian replies, “Oh, you’re a barista,” dismissing the idea that acting could be her profession. Sebastian seems perpetually annoyed with the world and, in particular, the creation of a new “samba and tapas” bar in place of his favorite historic jazz club. Mia loves old movies – Casablanca and Bringing Up Baby – and Sebastian is obsessed with traditional jazz. Their attachment to the past adds to the sweetly nostalgic feel of the film, but it also makes hypocrites of both characters.

When Sebastian accuses his friend of being a sell-out after adding synths to his jazz music, his friend rightly points out that the people Sebastian holds so highly were revolutionists of the jazz age, and Sebastian cannot be a revolutionary if he’s so focused on being a traditionalist. Mia gives up on acting after it becomes too difficult, but she accuses Sebastian of “giving up on his dream” when he joins a band that doesn’t follow his strict idea of what he deems “proper” jazz.

The music and directing bring this otherwise average movie to the standard it is, resulting in the many award nominations. While the plot is cliché and fairly predictable, the fact that it’s interspersed with wonderfully written and perfectly choreographed numbers make it forgivable. The actors’ sometimes charming and oftentimes clunky and obvious lack of dancing/singing background is offset by the way the lighting, camerawork, and transitions make the film seem like it could have come straight out of the golden era of Hollywood. It has, miraculously, kept the very essence of a classic musical, which is probably what is attracting so many people, all yearning for something familiar and reminiscent of the past in a world of Book of Mormon and Kinky Boots.

It was, in the end, very watchable and thoroughly enjoyable. It doesn’t live up to the hype, but very few films with quite so much of it do. There is no doubt that the musical numbers (specifically the vibrant opening, “Another Day of Sun”) and the directing are both works of art, with the major drawback being the unspectacular plot. Did it deserve all of the awards it won? I don’t know, but I had no doubt they would receive them. The dialogue is littered with references to famous and highly successful Hollywood films, and there’s nothing Hollywood likes more than patting itself on the back.


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