La La Land transports critics into a city of lights and dreamers
By KAYLEIGH RONGEY
Musicals have long been accredited with creating a deep polarity in opinions. As with every genre of theatre or film, there are die-hard fans, those individuals who know every word in every song, and there are die-hard haters with an elaborate list of reasons why no one should enjoy that genre. It is with this division in mind that I went to see the critically acclaimed film, “La La Land.
Being a self-acclaimed lover of musicals, I was highly skeptical of a film being a musical that had not originally appeared as a stage production. Cult classics like “Grease” and “West Side Story,” had all been on Broadway for several years prior to appearing on the silver screen, giving writers plenty of time to finalize the plot and score before their new debut.
The only company to successfully pull off a film presentation of a musical followed by a play is arguably Disney. Its multiple musical princess films that have flooded theaters for several years now.
This placed me as both a lover of musicals and an extreme skeptic of the film. However, I became much more at ease when I discovered that this is not director and writer Damien Chazelle’s first experience pairing music and film off the stage.
In 2013, his film “Whiplash” took critics by surprise, winning three Academy Awards, a Golden Globe and a slew of other acclamations. Although, I advise viewers to not be fooled into believing that “La La Land” will merely contain subtle musical interludes like the ones that surround the plot of “Whiplash.” I was highly surprised to find that this film is undoubtedly a full-fledged, tap-shoe- wearing musical.
The film begins with a stunning song and dance that heightens the viewers’ senses and boldly announces to the audience that it can expect several more plot advancing songs before the credits roll. Chazelle lets his audience know exactly what they’re getting into before the main characters even make an appearance. If your only desire to see this film stems from a love of either Emma Stone or Ryan Gosling, the opening number will leave you suspended for a good number of verses and musical interludes before revealing the Golden Globe winning stars.
When the actors do finally appear amidst the bustle of the dancers and soloists, it becomes clear that their affection will grow similarly to the relationship that appears in Gosling’s earlier film, “The Notebook.” Their love for each other begins as a one-sided endeavor as Mia (Emma Stone) attempts to compliment a jazz musician on his performance at a restaurant owned by Bill (J. K. Simmons). This theme has a refreshing lack of cliché given that the rolls of pursuit are the reverse of the norm.
Musicals often embody motifs of forbidden, but unquestionable love that leave audiences wondering when writers will let Romeo and Juliet die in peace. Chazelle avoids the overused romantic themes by making Mia the chaser, at the beginning of the relationship. This almost feminist turn of roles sets Mia as a confident and driven individual who occasionally needs a little encouragement from her friends.
There’s a certain charming, campy quality to musicals that makes them all the more enjoyable to fans. A strange or even impossible set of circumstances will either bring two characters together or tear them apart. The result is always an enumerable amount of plot holes or a deus ex machina ending that audiences very willingly suspend their disbelief for in order to continue enjoying the play.
While “La La Land” does employ the fantastic, it also makes remarkably great use of the realistic. Both Sebastian and Mia are highly relatable characters with easily understood goals. And while they may occasionally step into whimsical settings, they maintain pretty grounded roles. Sebastian and Mia only take a moment to dance among the stars during the song “Planetarium” before being thrown back into the intense life of struggling artists.
The film, despite the great divide between musical connoisseurs and complainers, has so widely been received by audiences that it leaves those critics who did not enjoy the film feeling shamed or altogether silenced.
In season 42, episode 12 of “Saturday Night Live,” actor and comedian Aziz Ansari embodies these hushed detractors during a sketch where he is being held by police officers for not liking “La La Land.” Two cops, played by Vanessa Bayer and Beck Bennett, hysterically and over-dramatically shoot down his critique that “it kind of dragged” because “there were too many montages in the middle.”
This is a fair opinion of the film and it can easily be agreed upon as an accurate assessment. However, after winning a total of seven Golden Globes, skeptics are finding it increasingly harder to share their opinions on the film. Even those who detest musicals are falling in love with it. I attribute this to the fact that unlike its predecessors, the songs help advance the plot in a creative manner, even if they do thicken a little unnaturally around the middle.
Music lovers and dance montage haters all have at least one compliment to give the film. Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling dazzle audiences and live up to the expectations of their fans. All in all, the film was engaging and it created a relatable empathy between the characters and the viewers. The film earns a 4.5/5