By Gigi Hume
Way back in ‘ye olden days, musicals were the norm at the box office scene, and a widely popular one in that. Tales of romance combined with light-hearted tunes of Judy Garland, Gene Kelly, and Debbie Reynolds harmonized into audiences’ hearts and created an uplifting energy, and in a time of war and widespread anguish, that was exactly what the doctor ordered. But times change, movies evolve to fit the needs of the people, and in the past 40 years or so, those needs have been gangster-dramas, sci-fi, and rom-coms minus the theatrics, leaving musicals to sit on the backburner.
On December 9, 2016, director Damien Chazelle, who rose to fame directing the Academy Award-nominated feature film Whiplash, stunned moviegoers with the release of the “modern musical,” La La Land. This film, rated 93% on Rotten Tomatoes, has earned the #2 spot on the Rotten Tomatoes Top Movies List along with rave reviews across the board for its “irresistible appeal” (Scott, The New York Times) and “most technically-accomplished love letter to music yet” (Schaefer, Screen Rant), sending in $132 million worth of people to the box office just trying to understand this latest film fad. And though these reviews make the film seem revolutionary, the basic premise of it is relatively simple, but be warned, a spoiler alert is in order.
The story follows aspiring actress Mia (Emma Stone) as she navigates her way through Hollywood life and the numerous trials and tribulations that come with it. On the other end of town resides the obsessed-with-everything-jazz Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) working unfulfilling piano gigs at clubs that are less than enthusiastic toward his desire to innovate and stray from the norm in a musical sense. Needless to say, neither of their lives are going as they envisioned, until one day their paths coincidentally cross at one of Sebastian’s many gigs where she catches a riff of what he is capable of when he doesn’t succumb to conformity. After a few other chance encounters and tap dance numbers, the two make their relationship official and as with any couple there are good times and there are bad. Illusory waltzes with a galactic backdrop at the Griffith Observatory, Mia’s decision to write her own one-woman show at the suggestion of Sebastian, and Sebastian’s rise to fame while performing in his high school friend Keith’s (John Legend) band, all heightened with spurts of musical numbers in between and the help of Stone’s and Gosling’s impeccable chemistry. But just as they are capable of portraying the honeymoon phase, they perfectly encapsulate the aggravation and sadness that comes from arguments, career struggles, and lives leading down different paths. Through these equally beautiful and heart-breaking times, the two always know they will be there for each other, to smile for each other as their dreams come true.
Gosling, Stone, Chazelle and everyone else involved in this film perfectly blended realism and idealism to create an ethereal, yet relatable take on adulthood in a medium that hasn’t been attempted and well-done for 15 years since the release of Chicago. Though at times the singing can be a bit pitchy, and, for any hopeless romantic, the ending will be sure to have you kicking yourself, as a whole, it is beautiful, innovative, nostalgic, and sure to make you join the fall in la la love with love.
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