In an attempt to revive the classic Hollywood musical is Damien Chazelle’s (Whiplash) La La Land; a tale of inspiration, romance, jazz and, above all, the American Dream. Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone form an idyllic L.A. couple, Mia and Seb, both fed up with their jobs and desperate for their breakthrough, complete with mesmerising choreography and an emotive score. Chazelle’s second musical is set to be his most successful to date, after sweeping seven awards at the Golden Globes and rumours of perhaps stealing the Oscar for Best Picture.
Mia is a struggling actress, working as a coffee barista on a Hollywood set, tirelessly attending unsuccessful auditions. Seb is a jazz pianist in a classy, downtown restaurant who longs to perform his own compositions. Seb’s traditionalist values are seen through his desire for the revival of classic jazz. The main protagonists initially meet stuck in traffic on the highway. After a few chance encounters and a frosty start to their relationship, Seb and Mia finally realise that in order to achieve their dreams, they may need each other’s support, and so the audience is thrown into the whirlwind of emotions that is La La Land.
Justin Hurwitz’s captivating soundtrack, as well as Gosling and Stone’s outstanding performances, provided the foundations of the film. Hurwitz had worked previously with Chazelle on the soundtrack for Whiplash, which received a Grammy Award nomination for Best Score Soundtrack for Visual Media, losing out to Antonio Sánchez’ soundtrack for Birdman (Alejandro G. Iñárritu). Contradictory to the upbeat, Mamma Mia-esque opening number, the film is not heavy with songs sung by the leads as the audience may originally perceive. Chazelle and Hurwitz opted more for an emphasis on the music rather than the singing with Mia and Sebastian’s Theme being engraved in the audience’s memory. Gosling, who spent three months learning to play the piano for the film, portrays the raw emotions and passion that jazz musicians feel when performing.
Accompanying the music was the spellbinding dance routines, featuring duets and large ensemble numbers. The audience was thrown through the motions with the mixture of ballroom dancing and homage to Gene Kelly’s iconic tap dancing. The upbeat opening number (Another Day of Sun), where the leads originally meet stuck in traffic on the highway, was a continuous tracking shot of citizens of L.A. dancing on their cars during 100-degree heat.
La La Land is a refreshing take on the musical genre, hopefully paving the way for more like it to follow. Although the nominations have not yet been released, it will not be surprising if this film wins the Oscar for the Best Picture award, as a result of the breath-taking emotions portrayed via Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone’s performances, as well as Justin Hurwtiz’s alluring soundtrack.