This week we took in La La Land, Damian Chazelle's glittering tribute to Hollywood as well as a love story of what might have been. (Spoilers below).
The tribute to Hollywood shines through in the many allusions to classic films -- the photo montage above, part of this article by Aisha Harris in Slate, captures those well. I would add that the film, unsurprisingly given its title, is also a love letter to Los Angeles. There are numerous shots of the Rialto Theater, the Griffith Observatory, and the glittering hills.
Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) and Mia (Emma Stone) are two dreamers. Sebastian is a talented musician who wants to open an old-time jazz club, Mia is a talented actress seeking her big break who endures many humiliating auditions along the way. As the film starts Sebastian is reduced to playing Jingle Bells for tips, while Mia pours coffee for superstars on the Warner Brothers lot.
They meet, they argue, they stroll, they sing, they fall in love.
About that singing -- at first I was worried, because musicals can be cheesy. But La La Land strikes the right balance between spoken dialogue and song, with some nice dashes of magical realism (at one point Gosling and Stone are flying through the air) along the way.
As you might expect with two talented and striving artists, life becomes more challenging once they achieve success. Sebastian joins a jazz band (which to his mind proffers a bastardized but lucrative form of the art) that requires lots of touring. He sees it as a means to an end, which remains opening his own jazz club. Mia writes and performs in a one woman show, which she views as a disaster but actually leads to her big break.
Mia becomes extremely famous, Sebastian opens a club that rocks the night away. For their own individual dreams to flourish, their collective union must wither.
A timeless story, sure. But there is nothing new under the sun. In lesser hands these strains would become cliche, in Chazelle's hands they become art.