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Seasons In The City Of Dreams: La La Land
La La Land begins with a traffic jam, but it's a traffic jam right out of a musical. When the traffic clears, Mia Dolan (Emma Stone) has her first encounter with Sebastian Wilder (Ryan Gosling), and it's not a good one. Mia works as a barista at the cafe on the Warner Brothers lot. She hopes to make her mark as an actress, but first she has to survive auditions and comebacks. While out one night, she hears Sebastian, a struggling musician, play. Even though Mia doesn't like jazz, she takes a liking to Sebastian, his playing, and his dreams of owning a jazz club. They find a kinship in their struggle to achieve their dreams.
Their breaks come, but not in the ways they expected. Sebastian's musician friend Keith (John Legend) offers Sebastian a spot in his band, and they have a hit record. This success, however, makes him long for his dreams even more. As they tour, Mia writes a one-woman play based on her experiences in life. The low turnout and negative reception on opening night force her to end the show. It does, however, get her a call from an impressed casting director. This change again puts the relationship to the test.
In his two feature films, writer-director Damien Chazelle has displayed a love of music, especially jazz. Whiplash took a look at a jazz protege and his efforts to learn his craft. In La La Land, Sebastian embraces the jazz of the past, and laments that an old jazz club has become a taco and tapas restaurant. Mia also has an affinity for the past, living in an apartment filled with movie memorabilia and three girl friends. Chazelle contributes as well with references to Rebel Without A Cause and a fairly traditional music score courtesy of Justin Hurwitz. Chazelle doesn't tell viewers the outcome until the end, in a montage with few words that seems to be inspired by the closing sequence of An American In Paris. I enjoyed the optimistic attitude of La La Land very much, but Whiplash had the more compelling story.
La La Land marks the third time Stone and Gosling have worked together, following Crazy. Stupid. Love. and Gangster Squad. In this movie, unlike the other two, they are front and center almost every moment. Their characters work hard at their crafts, they never really dress casually, and work to achieve their ultimate goals. On top of all that, they can capably carry a tune. The breaks they get come in ways they never planned, yet Mia and Sebastian never stop being each other's biggest fans, and learn each other's moods very well. Stone is sweet and vulnerable as Mia, who notices when casting directors don't care enough to listen to her auditions. Gosling is proud and headstrong, whether he plays for tips or plays in a successful band. Outside of Stone and Gosling, pop singer Legend has the most screen time as Keith, who does fine as the friend who knows Sebastian needs the break he gets. J. K. Simmons, who delivered an Oscar-winning role in Whiplash, makes a brief appearance as Bill, a club manager who puts Sebastian on a short leash. Rosemarie DeWitt has a cameo as Sebastian's sister Laura, who encourages her sibling to expand his focus beyond his music.
La La Land shows Los Angeles as a warm and welcoming place as two young artists seek success on their own terms. The upbeat feel of the movie and old-fashioned approach reminded me of a recent period piece, The Artist, which is set in a time when films transitioned to sound. La La Land even gives a great number of actors whose names I don't recognize a shot at getting noticed. Every singing role puts the la la - as well as the other notes - into this film. The movie is a celebration of music and dreams, and the people who aspire for more. They can make anywhere their stage, and make practically anything possible, if only for a moment.
On a scale of zero to four stars, I give La La Land 3.5 stars. Here's to the ones who dream.