Originality. What is originality? For starters, it’s an idea. A unique idea that tackles different subjects in a unique, personal way. This year in particular has been a blessing to original movies such as Elle by Paul Verhoeven, Moonlight by Barry Jenkins and even Everybody Wants Some!! by Richard Linklater. We live in an age where indie movies rule the awards’ shows and rock the box office. Manchester by the Sea, this year’s heartbreaker is racking up awards and it was produced by Amazon (!). But I’m here to talk about a movie that has been on my mind ever since I saw it twice in the theater: LA LA LAND, ladies and gentlemen. The best movie of 2016. A movie so fresh, so vibrant, exciting and original that you just want to embrace it and kiss the screen. At least, that was me when the credits rolled. Should you see it? Yes. Don’t like musicals? See it, won’t be a problem. Why? Here we go;
Musicals have shaped the way we understand music in cinema. Musicals allowed viewers to contemplate beautiful set designs and jaw dropping dance sequences in movies such as Singin’ in the Rain, An American in Paris and Guys and Dolls. Their favorite stars, such as Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers and Gene Kelly, were given the opportunity to showcase their full range of musical talent and when their movies hit the theaters it was a huge show. But eventually the whole formula wore down by the end of the 60s. Probably the last successful musical (and it was very unexpected at the time) was the best picture winner of 2002, Chicago. Then everything felt silent until a couple of years ago with the release of the atrocious remake of Annie, which failed both critically and commercially. Now, two years later, almost three, and La La Land is in pole position to win the Oscar for best picture of the year. And why is that? Why does all of a sudden a musical out of all the brilliant films that came out this year (Silence, Sully, Arrival, Moonlight, Hell or High Water, De Palma; Hail, Caesar! among many many more) come out on top with critical acclaim and financial success? After all it’s Damian Chazelle’s only second feature film (after the thrilling and just as successful Whiplash) and it doesn’t contain a star studded cast like Chicago did. Sure, the two protagonists are played by two of the biggest stars of modern day Hollywood but a musical by definition stays a musical and people nowadays are very reluctant toward such an ‘old fashioned’ genre. BUT don’t listen to them. La La Land is a film that uses the musical side in order to make the love story more profound. It doesn’t rely on it. It uses it. Music, in fact, is a perfect instrument, which, if used properly, can play a big role in the delivery of a movie’s message. We all saw how brilliant Damian Chazelle was in using music in Whiplash as the centerpiece of the story without making it unbearable for us to cope with. Music was the engine of Whiplash and the reason for the characters’ development. It inspired and terrorized Andrew (Miles Teller) and eventually made of him an obsessed monster just as it had done years before that with the cruel Mr. Fletcher (JK Simmons). Now, La La Land, as the title suggests, is a movie about dreams, about confronting fantasy with reality, and about the cost of love and the sacrifice that goes with it. The two main characters, Mia and Sebastian, represent today’s hidden youth. I say hidden because these are authentic people, who have real interests, needs and ambitions. They want to live and want to live their lives without anyone telling them as to what to do, something that is rarely seen among today’s young generation. Music expresses their existence.
So why is it so fresh and exciting? Because it is not a coming-of-age story, it is not a melodrama, it is not a chick-flick, and it is not a comedy. It is an achievement built on pure love for cinema. Chazelle, 32, and already one of the very best in the business with a bright future ahead of him, paints the screen with beautiful images that make us recall the old movies, the experience of seeing the film on color and sound, with a rich palette (shot on breathtaking Cinemascope lens), that ranges from dark purple to light red and an endless sea of blue. It is a celebration of filmmaking. It opens with a musical piece accompanied by an astonishing tracking shot that covers an entire lane on the LA motorway with dancers and stuntmen giving it their all and setting the tone for the rest of the film. It’s there and then that we meet both characters and we immediately understand what kind of people they are; Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), a young man who loves Jazz and demands the best out of himself, and then Mia (Emma Stone), a pretty and goofy girl who loves acting more than anything in the world. They find themselves in similar situations; they are hungry not for success but for personal glory, the feeling of accomplishment, of doing something that they like and that sets them apart from the average Joe with a suitcase and a shirt and tie. They want to prove themselves. Sebastian’s goal is to save Jazz and Mia’s desire is to express what she’s been bottling up her whole life. And that is why the use of music is essential. When the music takes over the true faces of these two young people appear before us and demand our attention. Their dancing and singing is how they communicate and bond. At first there isn’t much to their relationship but soon they become lovers of a whole new generation. They are honest and they fight through a shitstorm of bureaucracy, rules and social norms. Together they become the modern day couple and as we follow them fall in love, we come to the point where we realize that their love is beautiful precisely because it comes at a price and decisions have to be made. I won’t say much more than that. Go see it. All I can say is this; with two breathtaking performances given by two amazing actors, who remind us of the great pairings of the 50s such as Gene Kelly and Debbie Reynolds, and the direction of a young man who understands music, its power and significance not only in cinema but in real life too, and treats the history of the silver screen with maturity and respect, this musical tackles the subject of dreams, passion, desire and the fragility of love with incredible subtlety and experience. It doesn’t push its message and it doesn’t try to sell it either. It is similar to a painting; it allows you to see things only you can see in your own, personal way.