From the opening logo of La La Land, the latest film from Whiplash director Damien Chazelle, you get an undeniable sense of homage to the Golden Age of Hollywood musicals. Chazelle, a jazz musician himself, has claimed that his intention was "to take the old musical but ground it in real life where things don't always exactly work out." With Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone on board as the leads, Chazelle has created a wonderland fantasy reminiscent of the classic Hollywood musical.
One of his greatest accomplishments with this movie, however, is that La La Land holds true to this idea of reality. While the film features beautiful set pieces and enchanting song and dance numbers, this is a film for modern audiences. Here are several ways that Chazelle combines the old with the new, building one of the most spectacular contrasts we've seen on the silver screen in quite some time.
A Familiar But Grounded Story
La La Land may seem like nothing new on paper, but that's the point. Chazelle keeps his story simple and familiar to audiences. He places his focus on the presentation of the story, astounding and captivating his audience with original songs and mystifying imagery. Many plot devices may seem familiar to audiences. For example, characters who chase their dreams and fall in love simultaneously, and how these come into conflict. The concept has been floating around for decades, but that's because it works, and this movie is no exception.
The characters themselves may also be reminiscent of iconic figures from classic Hollywood musicals. Emma Stone's character Mia strikes quite the resemblance to the great Debbie Reynolds from Singin' in the Rain. She's quirky, charming, and she chases her dreams of becoming an actress while finding love in the process. Both characters evolve from live theatre towards film acting as their careers progress, and they both work their way out of hardship through their talent and determination.
What makes La La Land unique, however, is how it subverts the cheery, fantasy world of a classic musical for something more realistic, grounded in the reality of modern day. Emma Stone's path seems harder than Debbie Reynolds, who we never got to see rejected and humiliated at an audition. You also don't see Singin' in the Rain exploring how characters will pay their rent or what it looks like when they chase their dreams and fail.
The film also brings fun additions to the story in the form of modern conventions that simply weren't around in people's lives 50 years ago. Chazelle often embraces how devices like iPhones would change a fairy tale romance. However, he still finds time in the film to ignore these distractions and let us marinate in the beauty of the romance and the music just as we would in a classic Hollywood musical.
A Modern Take on Romance
One of Chazelle's greatest departures from the classic musical is how he portrays the movie's romance. While one might expect a flawless, fairy tale romance from La La Land's trailer, viewers will actually find a long, bumpy road until Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling wind up together and an even harder journey that follows as they take a stab at their relationship. By breaking down the idea of the "perfect romance" and giving a more nuanced, realistic depiction of a relationship, Chazelle captivates his audience in a strange but powerful way. He doesn't astound them with the perfect; he does so with the familiar.
One way he does this is by playing with time. Unlike a classic musical which would typically be told linearly from the perspective of a lead character, Chazelle bounces around between both Mia and Sebastian (Gosling's character) to show how they live their respective lives before meeting each other. Without spoiling the film's ending, Chazelle also plays with time once again to give one of the boldest conclusions you'd ever find in a romantic musical.
While the musical numbers and the visuals can make La La Land out to be a fairy tale, which it certainly is, it's still a fairy tale about real people. No character in the film is ever completely content, and Chazelle seems skeptical of the "happily ever after" ending. La La Land is a movie about sacrifices and touch decisions. It's not as breezy to watch as a classic musical might be, but the payoff feels far more rewarding because of these choices.
A Visual Upgrade
While the musicals of yesteryear had some eye-popping images of their own, Chazelle takes full advantage of his modern tools of production in order to upgrade the film's visuals far beyond anything of its kind. While La La Land's dances may strike a resemblance in style to its ancestors, the film's cinematography is as current as it gets, creating a refreshing dynamic that revitalizes the musical to fit nicely into a modern cinematic landscape.
You'll find that La La Land sticks out among its box office competitors in terms of visual distinction. Chazelle creates a rich color palette through his costumes and his setting that will leave moments from the film lingering in your mind long after the credits have rolled. The warm sunset in the backdrop of the above image has become an iconic cornerstone of the film's visual style which has intrigued audiences since images of the movie were first released.
From the opening song and dance, you'll find that La La Land is something special, a product of passion from the entire creative team. The film uses visual patterns, exciting camerawork, and a clever attention to detail to build a fairy tale world that fits beautifully within the story of the film while still capturing the spirit of a classic Hollywood musical.
If you've still yet to see La La Land, I assure you that it's a film that's well worth your time. Whether you're a fan of classic musicals or you just want to see something new and spectacular, this film has something for all audiences. Damien Chazelle takes a beloved genre and enhances it with smart direction and modern relevancy, making for one of the most delightful films of the year.
What did you think of 'La La Land'? Let me know in the comments below!