In a dinner scene from La La Land, writer-director Damien Chazelle’s bold follow-up to Whiplash, a young L.A. couple list off the reasons why they detest going to the movies and why they’re building a state of the art theatre in their own home as an alternative. In another scene an elegant rep theatre closes its doors for good while, down the street, a hallway full of young, pretty actresses vie for a role in a derivative “Dangerous Minds meets The OC” film. Though the film is peppered with traditionalist jazz pianist Sebastian (Ryan Gosling)’s passionate pleas for the resurrection of jazz, it’s not hard to see that La La Land is Chazelle’s overture for the necessity of cinema.
At once a tribute to French New Wave, Fellini, and, in particular, to Jacques Demy’s The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (with a splash of “The Young Girls of Rochefort“), the film seamlessly blends the old with the new (seen most overtly in the coupling of 1950s wingtip Oxford shoes with modern dress on the lead duo), jazz with orchestral arrangements, and the hope and the sacrifices artistic dreamers face in pursuit of their dreams.
It opens on “another day of sun” and another day of L.A. freeway traffic, where aspiring actors get out of their cars Everybody Hurts-style and belt out about their dreams of one day appearing on the big screen. In the first thrilling six minutes (and in a single take, no less), Chazelle and his longtime songwriting partner Justin Hurwitz announce that this is A MOVIE MUSICAL. Roommates prettying themselves up for yet another networking Hollywood party and a pair unafraid to tell the other that they’re not romantically interested all break out into song and dance, and if you’re a musical lover it’s pure bliss to watch.
While struggling actress Mia’s (Emma Stone, paired with Gosling for the third time on screen) trials of garnering a breakout role informs the narrative, Chazelle shows in the opening number that there are a city full of Mias “waiting to be found”. While similar thematically to his debut feature Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench, La La Land is pure cinematic joy and, with it, Chazelle earns his place amongst the stars.