Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone offer a silver lining on the silver screen
“Here’s to the ones who dream, foolish as they may seem,” Emma Stone croons in a raspy whisper. The piano crescendos as the audition room around her fades to black, and suddenly, she is transported to a fantastic, technicolor world. Compact with sporadic dance numbers, melodies sung in the sky, and a romance so whimsical, it seems too good to be true. And maybe it is.
Welcome to La La Land. Make sure to take a deep breath before the movie theater lights dim because you won’t get another chance to properly exhale for the next 128 minutes.
Whiplash director Damien Chazelle’s latest project, La La Land, explodes off the screen in vivid technicolor. The film’s Old Hollywood charm captures an absurd whimsicality to it. Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone tug on your heart-strings and ignite your imagination, reminiscent of Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke stepping into a fantastic, dreamlike world through a sidewalk-chalked mural in Mary Poppins. It’s inspirational absurdity at its finest, only this fairytale is far more turbulent.
La La Land follows the wayward paths of two aspiring artists in LA who, despite their healthy doses of rejection, remain resolutely enamored—and almost tortured—by the idea that maybe, just maybe, they are the exceptions in an industry that gorges on wide-eyed hopefuls like themselves.
Stone plays Mia, an aspiring actress who left college to chase a dream she knows, deep down, to be absolutely ludicrous. Since then, she’s been working on the Warner Brother’s lot… serving coffee. Mia is a walking juxtaposition, torn between grasping at an intangible dream or coming back down to reality once and for all. And she’s on the cusp of giving up.
Gosling plays Sebastian, a struggling jazz pianist and, coincidentally, Mia’s perfect foil. The only commonality between the two is their indelible dreams of grandeur. Unlike Mia, Sebastian is incorrigibly bullheaded when it comes to his lifelong dream of owning a jazz club. A gifted musician with little interest in the monotony of reality, he is the poster child for the ubiquitous “starving artist” trope. Yes, he knows jazz is a dying genre; he’s determined to single handedly save it. Nevermind the fact that his bills are unpaid or that the only decoration in his shabby apartment is an old piano—his mind is occupied elsewhere, dreaming, planning.
As the smoke settles and the plot unfolds, it becomes clear that La La Land is far more than a melodic love story—it’s a story about the severing pain and sacrifice that comes with devoting yourself to your art.“This is the dream! It’s conflict and it’s compromise and it’s very, very exciting,” Sebastian tells Mia. But what if that sacrifice meant forging your path alone? After all, what’s mere love in the face of fulfilling your dreams?
Similar to Baz Luhrman’s beautifully morose masterpieces like Moulin Rouge and The Great Gatsby (2013), La La Land joins the ranks of high-speed surrealist films where an idyllic happy-ever-after feels intangible from the start. Still, we can’t tear our eyes from the screen in hopes that somehow our protagonists get the ending they deserve.
I had been bracing for impact since the beginning, and still, I wasn’t prepared for what Chazelle had in mind for La La Land’s grand finale. The final twenty-minutes is pure, unabated, technicolor neurosis. The staggering orchestral epilogue roars on as you’re sent flying from your seat through lucid dream-like sequences. And just when you think your heart can’t pound any faster, Chazelle rips it out entirely, sending you crashing back down to your popcorn—and reality. “Mia and Sebastian’s Theme” plays softly, Gosling and Stone share a secret smile, and suddenly, your heart might be okay after all.
If Old Hollywood Ryan Gosling singing about his tortured dreams isn’t enough to sell you on this film, the incredible soundtrack and stunning cinematography undoubtedly will. It’s no surprise award nominations are accruing exponentially. La La Land isn’t so much of a film as it is an experience—and it’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen. It’s raw yet whimsical, inspired yet crushing. This film stays with you long after the credits roll like a dream so spectacular, you almost wish you never woke up.