The latest film from Damien Chazelle is by far my favourite movie of the year. I watched and reviewed it as soon as it came out in January, and it was the first picture that got a perfect score in this humble blog. Simply put: I loved it. However, I found it difficult to talk about certain things while avoiding spoilers… So let’s celebrate the musical that won
seven six Oscars has recently come out in Blu-ray by revisiting it in-depth!
From now on, major events in the film, including its ending, will be discussed. You’ve been warned!
It’s another day of sun in LA. The movie begins with an over-the-top, lively musical number that sets the tone of the rest of the runtime masterfully. It starts slowly, with a girl singing in her car while waiting in a traffic jam, but soon enough dozens of people stand on their cars joyfully dancing to the rhythm of the song. All of this is shown in a seemingly single shot, which gives it a very organic feel to it creating a riveting experience unlike any other in recent years. How the music plays with the soft boundary between being diegetic and non-diegetic is nothing short of exciting, either.
While the intention of Chazelle was to actually shoot the whole thing at once, they had to divide it in pieces due to the technical limitations of recording on location (in three bits, if I recall correctly). The choreography is a lot of fun and lets the director make a bold statement: if you don’t like this kind of thing, you’d better leave now.
We get introduced to Mia and Seb almost at once as they meet each other in the traffic jam. The characters that Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling portray respectively are incredibly written. They are a perfect fit for each other, as their dreams and aspirations are very much alike. She wants to be a movie star, while his objective is to open his very own jazz club. They love art, and they’d do anything to make that dream come true. More on that later.
Let’s talk about how their relationship evolves over time. We could talk about script, how nicely the romance is handled not to feel too silly… But let’s see how the director and the cinematographer use lighting to convey that progression. From soft, bright tones to express discovery, to colourful and saturated imagery during their first kiss in the Planetarium, the journey the characters live is shown with the cinematography itself. In later scenes, when both of them discuss their plans of the future, the green blinds’ reflection fill the room as a sign of hope. As the heart-breaking epilogue approaches, blue tones can be found everywhere, especially at Seb’s club where the most tragic scene I’ve watched in a long time happens. The montage we witness during those final minutes is beautiful too, with dreamy colours and a (probably overly obvious) vignette that adds to that feel.
You may think I’m exaggerating a bit, but I truly find all of this that fantastic. Every frame in the film looks beautiful and is able to convey feelings just by the use of lighting and colour. There’s a rule in cinema that says “don’t tell, show”. If a correct use of the cinematographic language is done, there’s little need of exposition-heavy scenes, which results in a more compelling experience for us, the audience. That’s why I find all this colour thing so important. One of the very few problems I had with Mommy, my favourite movie of all time, was the fact that despite the great cinematography and script, the director had the need to include a couple of written lines in the beginning to explain a certain fact, and this could have been done by using the nature of cinema instead of borrowing the written text as a resource from literature. No such mistake is done in La La Land, and this results in a seamless experience.
One of the controversies the film has had is its ending. Yeah, it’s sad. “Another day of sun”, “Someone in the crowd” and other upbeat tunes have flooded the runtime, it is a Hollywood love story, but the damn ending is sad as hell. We expected everything but this! Long story short: Mia gets a role in an important movie and has to move to Paris, Seb is about to open his club in LA, so they have to give up their relationship not to give up their dreams. Fast-forward half a decade, Mia is visiting LA with her husband and finds Seb’s club. They sit to watch as Seb takes the stage, and as soon as he notices Mia in the crowd, a silence invades the room. “Welcome to Seb’s” he says, and gets ready to start playing.
During my previous, spoiler-free review, I stated the following:
[…] there is a moment in the epilogue so original, nice, and moving, that it will be part of cinema history.
The epilogue is Seb’s answer to the question “what if instead of following our ambitions we had decided to stay together?”. And the answer is a kiss. As he plays their song gently on the piano, we go back in time and see how Seb gets fired for not playing the Christmas songs he had to. He approaches the door, and Mia goes to him to congratulate the great music he was playing. It’s like a déjà vu. That happened during the first minutes of the film, yet we remember it so vividly without a need for a reminder. We know what’s about to happen. Seb is going to ignore her. Only this time, something else happens.
A kiss. An absolutely unexpected kiss that, together with the beautiful score from Justin Hurwitz, made us jump on our seats. I could feel my heart skipping a beat. We’ve seem millions of kisses in movies, but none of them was so charming as this one. It has so much meaning packed into a small moment.
Because the decision to split up in order to pursue their dreams isn’t selfish of any of them. Seb doesn’t break up with Mia because he won’t be able to open the jazz club otherwise. Mia doesn’t break up with Seb because she won’t be able to be a movie star if they stay together. They break up because they would be holding back the person they love most. She wants the best for him and vice versa. And they know the only way to be happy is to go their separate ways. They let go of the love of their lives not to make them unhappy. It’s beautiful and devastating all at once.
La La Land talks about ambition and love, about the price of following our dreams, in a very mature way. The characters are written incredibly well to be believable, and any artist will immediately empathise with them. It is hard to give up your life for your passion, but sometimes we can do nothing but go for it. Chazelle isn’t afraid of creating complex emotions in his films, feelings that aren’t usual in mainstream movies, (he already proved this with Whiplash), and he achieves to do so in a compelling way that shows life has no black and no white. It’s all thousands of shades of gray instead.
Here’s to the ones who dream, foolish as they may seem. Hell, yeah. 10/10