By Jamie Bain (Guelph, Ontario, Canada)

 

An Outstanding Work of Art that Makes You Want to Dream Again

“Here’s to the ones who dream, foolish as they may seem.” These lyrics sung in the song Audition (The Fools Who Dream) in Damien Chazelle’s original movie musical La La Land, not only serve as the climax message of the main characters’ stories, but they capture the essence of this stunning film in its entirety. For decades, Hollywood has been struggling to create a successful original live-action movie musical, and Chazelle has not only delivered but he has gone above and beyond to comply. I feel that for a film to meet the highest of regard they not only have to meet outstanding aspects such as plot, ability of actors, songs and score, costumes and sets, and overall thematic take home message; but throughout the film, they have to interact, connect, and at the end of the day complement each other. La La Land has done just this.

The premise of La La Land is somewhat overused, but overall it gets the plot of the film moving. Mia, the bright-eyed female lead portrayed by the brilliant Emma Stone, is an aspiring actress and part-time barista living in Los Angeles following her dream of becoming a famous actress. Sebastian, the suave, Gene Kelly like male lead portrayed by Ryan Gosling, is a struggling jazz musician who, coincidentally like Mia, is following his own dream of one day opening his own jazz club. After a series of events, the two characters end up meeting and they develop a relationship that is refreshing and maintains your interest throughout the entire film. An example of this being interesting would be in one of the first scenes we see the first interaction of these two characters not in an actual conversational scene, but with Mia blocking Sebastian in traffic and him pulling around her and her flipping him off. It was a simple, yet deep interaction that set the tone of their relationship for the rest of the film. There were numerous moments between these two characters like this; ones that you would expect from a real life relationship. This makes you relate to these characters on some level, and most importantly keep them grounded and doesn’t push them out of the realm of possibility.

Mia and Sebastian’s relationship was just the tip of the iceberg of the aspects of the characters that were refreshing. I found that while Sebastian was suave, and charming, he was also stubborn, brash, and sometimes just out right rude. This was a good way of fleshing out his character and not letting him fall into the trap of the “angsty, moody musician”. Gosling did a very good job of portraying Sebastian, but I feel like he didn’t go above and beyond with his acting. This was partially the writer’s fault that they didn’t give Sebastian a very prominent scene to really let Gosling tell us Sebastian’s story to its fullest or let us feel his emotion. Mia on the other hand was one of the most fleshed out characters I have seen in a while, and Stone did a tremendous job portraying her. After seeing the trailer, and even in the beginning of the film I believed that she would be another character who had her head in the clouds and by the end of the film achieved her goal.

This was a completely naive opinion of her character on my part. Yes, in the beginning of the film she is another “aspiring actress who moves to the big city and this is going to be her big break”, and yes, in the end of the film she does achieve her goals. But what made her such a tremendous character was what she did in her journey from the beginning of the film to the end. Over the course of the film you saw her at her highest and lowest points, and at those high and low points you forgot who Emma Stone was and you only saw Mia at her most emotional moments. Stone actually became one with the character and showed you Mia’s thoughts, fears, hopes, and dreams; and at the end of the day she reminded you that at one point in your life you could relate to Mia on some emotional level.

The costumes, sets, and general aesthetic of La La Land were able to add a whole other layer of depth to the story telling of the film. In the opening scene of the film, you can see that the clothes people are wearing are very bright and colourful and complement each other and as the story progresses, the colours become more neutral. This reflects Mia’s character development as she starts out a young naive person, and as her character grows she become more mature and the colours and environment around her become more grounded and dull. The use of aspects of the film other than the main storyline to show character development was a brilliant level of storytelling.

Although the sets and costumes were tools used to tell very effective stories, I feel like the music of La La Land was one of the finest original scores composed for a film and one of the main tools used for telling the story. Even the songs that were quiet and somewhat melancholy, ended up being a grandeur performance that left me in awe. The songs with big crowds singing and dancing, made you want to stand up in the film theatre and dance along with them; the main duet between Mia and Sebastian pulled at your heartstrings and showed you the depth of their relationship; and the ending song Epilogue, was an epic, dream-like conglomerate of the film’s main scenes. The strange combination of a slow build up and grand crash of flutes and trombones in one song, in combination with the scene of a roaring 20’s era party, instantly transports you into a dream-like world that you never want to leave, and I had this feeling for every song in the film. The one aspect of the music that I did not appreciate was the fact that they did not give any credit to African-American people who pioneered this genre of music. Some famous names were mentioned here and there, but for a film to have such a heavy jazz genre influence the writers should have been more respectful of the culture and people that jazz originated from.

La La Land is an exceptional film, and through the aspects of the actor’s abilities, the costumes and aesthetics, the music, and the message of the film, all interacting and complementing each other, it shows us not to judge a film by its cover and it teaches us a very important lesson in life. On the outside, the film looks like another cliché movie musical that is all flash with no substance, but the film actually teaches us that to achieve our dreams we must have failures, otherwise we are not able to learn and be strong enough to never give up on those dreams. Staying true to its title, La La Land is a dream that I’m glad I was able to escape into for a few hours and I would happily escape into it again at any time.

Rating: 4/5

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