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LA LA LAND : No Spoilers Review

Updated on January 15, 2017

Living In LA LA LAND: The American Paris

Here’s another big one from the young and visionary filmmaker Damien Chazelle or as J.K. Simmons calls him- “the boy wonder.” After grabbing three Academy Awards in 2014 for Whiplash, La La Land leaves no stone unturned for earning all the critical acclamation- “Best Film of 2016.” With a record breaking number of seven Golden Globes awards it not only became the first movie to win in seven categories but also the first to win in all the categories it was nominated for. It could be one of those movies which people would want to see just because of the number of Oscars it has won. When I read all the reviews just before it was about to release in India I was really excited. Anybody who has watched Whiplash for an uncountable number of times would understand how I felt. One of those reviews that I still remember said- “They don’t make films like this anymore.” and I thought how much it made sense and I didn’t have the answer because I hadn’t watched the movie then. Watching La La Land made me feel so lucky that I am born at the time when they make this kind of cinema. A cinema so beautiful that it’s almost unreal. (I know there’s a word for it- ‘surreal’ but then it won’t sound this dramatic) A cinema so beautiful that if while watching it you blinked, you’ve no idea how much you missed out on. A cinema so beautiful (last one, I promise!) that it’ll make you feel multiple emotions at the same time. Seriously, I haven’t watched all the movies that ever released in this planet but that review is making some sense to me now.

So, what makes La La Land the best film of this year? What is so great about the movie that the New York Film Critics Circle bestowed it with Best Picture award? Why is it being said that the movie has the potential to let out the fantastic beast out of a realist? Let’s take a dive into Chazelle’s world to find out the answers.

The brilliant idea of a romantic-musical starring Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling was enough to give me goose-bumps. It seems that this guy couldn’t be any jazzier as the premise of La La Land was again (after Whiplash) Jazz. Although this is just the third release (second musical) by Chazelle, he couldn’t stop obsessing over Jazz. Chazelle making movies about Jazz can be equated to the recent trend of creating strong roles for women in Hollywood for a universal purpose of empowering them where the former emphasizes on promoting and preserving Jazz and the latter focuses on the protection of dignity and integrity of women. It’s a weird analogy but works just fine if you get the point. Unlike Whiplash which was rather based on Chazelle’s real life, this one’s entirely fictional and it would be naïve to point out how outstanding Chazelle’s writing is. From all the dance numbers to the most intense drama sequences, everything about La La Land is an epitome of classiness and perfection. Keeping the cinematic experience aside it’s like watching the Subway dude making and wrapping up a sandwich or the factory manufacturing of Coca-Cola cans, both of which subtly qualifies as Art, basically it’s a dazzling experience.

The basic plot of La La Land unfolds a love story of Mia, a young aspiring actress who serves lattes at a L.A. café and Sebastian a jazz-musician struggling to make Jazz popular again. The best part about the legend of La La Land is of course the two lead actors Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, I’ve watched the movie twice and still couldn’t figure which of the two characters is better. Emma Stone as Mia seemed like she was sent to Earth for the sole purpose of doing this role, it’s not about how well she understood the character she was supposed to get into, rather it seems like Chazelle fell in love with Emma Stone first and then wrote Mia. Emma Stone as Mia is like RDJ as Tony Stark. All you need to do is look into yourself to understand what kind of a person you are or what person you always imagined yourself to be because that is what you’re supposed to do, play yourself! What surprizes me the most is the fact that how could something be done so masterfully when it is not even method acting. Emma obviously learned professional dancing but other than that I don’t think there was much to prepare for or maybe it didn’t seem like that. And, Ryan Gosling (I’m getting a boner), besides titillating all the ladies and the gay men out there which he always does in every one of his movies, did an equally great job as Sebastian. Because Chazelle wanted to shoot the musical sequences in the tradition of old musicals without cuts or editing, all the piano performances featured in the film was first recorded by pianist Randy Kerber during pre-production, Ryan Gosling then spent two hours a day and six days a week learning the piano lessons by heart. By the time filming had begun he was able to play all the piano sequences seen in the film in one take without the use of a hand double or CGI. It is really hard to imagine how somebody could magically play the piano just by learning it in such short duration. Besides the acting, after watching the movie you’ll learn that both Stone and Gosling are great, great dancers.

But there is something that is even better than the cast of the movie, score that it. For soundtrack and the music score Chazelle once again (after Whiplash) hired composer Justin Hurwitz who did a phenomenal job. Songs like ‘City of Stars’ besides winning the Golden Globe are capable of winning anyone’s heart. There is only one thing in a movie that has the potential to make me cry and that is of course the score and too bad, that it did make me cry. Besides the mesmerizing cast and a fervent score, what fascinates me the most is the use of camera in the movie. For photography Chazelle hired Swedish cinematographer Linus Sandgren, which is indeed an ingenious choice when you want to evoke the classic-retro style Hollywood. Sandgren has shot David O. Rusell’s American Hustle and Joy both of which are set in a classic era and are filled with colours that depict nostalgia. Chazelle’s version of L.A. is so colourful that it can only be described as magical. La La Land is a movie with a realistic plot set in a world of fantasy. With minimal style humour, the script makes the plot appealing and not far from reality but the cinematography and the costume-design loaded with red and bright-blue makes it a world of dreamers. Chazelle and Sandgren both agreed on the fact that digital camera and the use of Blue Screen to make the picture look big doesn’t capture the imaginary chromatic reality, which is like an impression of reality. Most of the sequences are shot in the evening light or in the night because L.A. during the day is sunny and pale until after dusk, when it gets incredible night skies like you would expect to see in someplace like Alaska or Greenland. Chazelle’s idea of musical is inspired by French musicals as he himself belongs to French origin, which is the reason why his version of L.A. has a French tinge to it. The use of smooth-moving Steadicams and cranes that can be felt right from the beginning of the movie where the camera swerves and swings to capture all the movement; nit’s dancing along. After all, it can be said that the cinematography of La La Land is one of its kind.

The blend of fantasy and reality in Chazelle’s version of L.A. couldn’t just be achieved by the unique style of photography but there are other things involved too, which brings me to the prolific production-design of the movie. Chazelle brought on the husband-and-wife team of production designer David Wasco and set decorator Sandy Reynolds-Wasco, who are known for their work on Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs, which makes a lot of sense as both the movies are set in L.A. And boy, are they good at creating someone’s imagination of L.A.! Most of the locations used for shooting set out the city in a way that could be perceived by someone who belongs to. the show biz. The production settled on two locations for most of the filming: The Rialto Theatre in South Pasadena and the Angels Flight railway in downtown L.A.

After all, La La Land as Emma Stone said (in her acceptance speech) “this is a film for dreamers” and it truly is as fantasizing as it never got to be. Usually, before going for a movie I don’t really hold expectations of any sort but this time I already knew that it is going to be great and I just couldn’t wait to watch it and when I finally did watch the movie I thought to myself that how stupid I was to think that it is going to be great. Just great. The regular, lame-ass (occurring once in every year) great! Rather, it was the most delightful, mesmerizing, electrifying, melancholic and outlandishly dwelling experience. I share this with anybody who doesn’t have a taste for movies or somebody who’s rarely watched any movie ever because it would be supremely dumb to suggest this movie to a regular cinephile like myself. And now I land at the part where I break the “no spoiler deal” by revealing one line from the movie that I believe is what La La Land is all about, which is quote, “This is the dream, its conflict and its compromise, its very very exciting!” I’m kidding. I didn’t spoil anything. This is one of the lines from the official trailer

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    • Saim Cheeda profile image

      Saim Cheeda 7 months ago from Karachi

      Such a lovely film