Ingrid Bergman once said, “Film as dream, film as music. No art passes our conscience in the way film does, and goes directly to our feelings, deep down into the dark rooms of our souls.” These lines, while written about cinema in general, hold passionately true for La La Land.
Anybody who knows me knows I can talk nineteen to a dozen about movies. However, I always find it strangely difficult to explain what specifics I love in the movies that I really, really fall in love with. La La Land is one such film. I could talk objectively about the movie, and say that the cinemascope shots, the frames, the mis-en-scene, the LA skies, the jazz music, the costumes, the set designs, the intricate balance between reality and dream, the cinematography, the acting, the choreography, the script… are all perfect to the T. But I would not feel like I am doing the movie any justice. I feel like the audience can tell when a movie is a labour of love, sweat, tears and aspirations – it bounces off the movie frame and reverberates in the hearts and minds of the people who are experiencing it. La La Land is the best example of that feeling.
From the very first shot of the LA skies and the mind-bogging traffic, I was transported to another world. The entire movie seemed to be tinted with a magical touch. The characters were grounded in reality, but were grandiose at the same time. Director Damien Chazelle struck the perfect balance between making them human, but also extraordinarily other-worldly.
Technically, one of the very clear reasons I immediately took to the movie was the use of jazz music. The movie had some amazing jazz pieces built brilliantly, and made me fall in love with old jazz all over again. Furthermore, all the small bits that comprise a whole film were in perfect harmony with each other. The lighting in the film complemented the music; the music complemented the costumes; the costumes complemented the dances; and the actors complemented each other. I can only imagine the painstaking efforts that would have gone into achieving such a feat.
I was also overwhelmed with the feeling of nostalgia while watching the movie. There is a kind of timelessness to the movie that is difficult to pinpoint – the characters drive a Prius and use mobile phones, but really, the story could have been happening in the early 1920s for all its worth. It reminded me a little of old Hollywood classic musicals like Casablanca, Singin’ in the Rain and many, many others. For a film lover, this movie is pure delight. However, even for people who have previously scowled at the mention of song-and-dance musicals, there might be something marvelously magnificent to witness here.
While the movie did everything right when it came to the technique, it never once missed a beat when came to the feelings, the characters and the story either. In its essence, La La Land is a straight-forward story of people who aspire for bigger things (or “The Fools who Dream”, as Emma Stone crooned) – however, it is the small moments that the movie got completely right. The awe and wonder on Mia’s face when she sees Sebastian play Jazz for the first time, the fluttering of hearts when hands touch, the floating feeling of falling in love, the disappointment, the hurt of rejection, the fear of failure, the maturity of adult love that believes in letting go..all of it is nuanced. Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling do not sing a single false note in this grand orchestra. Emma Stone has (rightly I must add) received a lot of praise for her impeccable acting. She is a myriad of emotions in every single frame, and she is beautiful. However, I would also like to speak about Ryan Gosling for a minute. His is the more “internalized emotions” brand of character. There is a scene where he overhears Emma Stone’s Mia speak to her parents about him, and the look of happiness, love, guilt, shame, and all else that lies in between this spectrum will break your heart. He wants to justify to the world why he deserves the love of a good woman. It is heartbreaking and brilliant in equal measures. He provides Emma Stone enough material to play with so that she delivers a performance that will be remembered for years to come.
This is one cinematic experience that should not be missed – if only to remind us that there is incredible beauty in nostalgia and wistfulness as well.