Think ‘Musical’ and up pop into mind Sound of Music and High School Musical. Perhaps this is the ‘conditioning’ of the modern mind about the genre of movies that has captivated minds and hearts down the ages. In La La Land, not only is a bridge built between the classic and the pop-age, but also towards a higher new level. A level we didn’t know existed until Damien Chazelle brought it to life on the big screen. La La Land is a place where the classic and the new converge and run into the future: A new generation of musicals, that balance hope with acceptance of harsh realities. Funny Girl may have had that persona to an extent, but La La Land has a unique facet of its own. Funny Girl was about an actress’ easy leap into spiraling success at Broadway. Not so in Chalezze’s creation.
In La La Land, when Mia (Emma Stone), a on-studio barista, auditions for a Hollywood role that demands the expression of ecstasy and grief within a few seconds of each other, we think she has bagged the part of an award winning actress. When Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), a struggling pianist, plays his original jazz composition in a restaurant despite being warned to stick to Christmas numbers, we think the diners will rise in standing ovation. Alas, La La Land is just that, a world where dreams float and rarely come down to earth. Of course, one goes chasing the dreams for them to materialize. But as the movie title suggests, Los Angeles is also a place where luck and stark reality play starring roles.
A string of chance meetings bring Mia and Sebastian together, and we see them grow equally as individuals. This is a striking difference from some musicals I recall, such as those of Julie Andrews or Barbara Streisand. These older ones would concentrate on the development of one particular character as she dominated the musical context. Here in La La Land, its terra firma for both lead roles as they sing and dance their way into our hearts.
A musical is meant to do that, to capture the imagination and lead us into the la la land of out cerebral hemispheres. But in my opinion, a successful musical stays with you, from its beginning to the end, long after we have departed the theater halls. La La Land lacks that soul-hitting personality in its entirety. If only ‘Another Day of Sun’, or, ‘Someone in the Crowd’, the opening numbers from the movie could stretch our smiles as far as ‘The Hills are Alive’ or ‘How do you solve a problem like Maria’ (From Sound of Music). A ‘Lovely Night’ tries to set the tone in the first half of La La Land, but there is a spark missing just short of fireworks. We have to wait a bit before the musical rocket launches literally into outer space, as Mia and Sebastian dance and hover through a star-studded and galaxy-adorned planetarium. There are no lyrics, just pure melting music and vivid visuals. This sequence is followed by a domino effect of stirring songs, from ‘City of Stars’, to ‘The Fools who Dream’.
Music stirs the soul, and the eyes are the window to the soul. We see that soul in Mia’s and Sebastian’s eyes. Their stories are testament to the heart of Hollywood, without seeming jarring. Any musical needs a bit of polish, a layer of distance from crude realities. La La Land does just that, albeit taking its own time before enveloping us with its la-la-ness.
We might have started seeing the film with doubt, but come out feet-tapping and singing in our subconscious. La La Land is a dream-catcher, laying the foundation for musicals for a long time to come…
Sound of Music– See here
High School Musical– See here
Funny Girl– See here