After winning a record-breaking seven Golden Globes this month and capturing the hearts of critics across the land, I walked into “La La Land” expecting the movie to shine a beacon of true brilliance through my eyeballs and into my soul.
Two hours later, my girlfriend and I walked out of the theater with the same impression: “That was okay.”
However, three days after watching the movie, the film’s last 10 minutes are still tearing at the soft underbelly of my emotions, and I’m having trouble getting the songs out of my head.
A contemporary musical with its mind fixated in the past, “La La Land” follows the serendipitous courtship of Mia (Emma Stone) and Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), two artists who have different aspirations but are both caught up in the bubbly dreams of Los Angeles. Mia is an aspiring actress, and Sebastian wants to open his own jazz club in the hope of keeping the traditional aspects of the genre alive.
It seems like both of them are living a pipe dream. Mia is repeatedly rejected for roles in derivative TV shows, and Seb resorts to playing plucky Christmas carols in restaurants to earn tips. Neither one of them feels accomplished. And then they meet each other.
Technically, “La La Land” is a thing of beauty. Director Damien Chazelle and his cinematographer, Linus Sandgren, use hyperbolic visuals to make scenes ring with thematic clarity, and the movie benefits from a vibrant color palette — its vistas of downtown L.A. are tinged with a spectrum of purples and blues, brightly colored dresses pop like electricity, and street lights hover spectrally in the air.
Unfortunately, it’s sometimes difficult to find the same grace in the characters. The film seems to revere Seb and Mia for being dreamers, and ends up being a very thoughtful rumination on the ultimate cost of lofty dreaming. (Again, the last 10 minutes of this movie are amazing and justify its contention as a best picture front-runner at the Oscars.)
However, the movie really didn’t give me a compelling reason to like Seb or Mia. On the surface the pair is okay, and I suppose they’re ultimately intended to act as a surrogate for the audience (which probably explains why their characters are so thin), but I found their overly nostalgic reverence for the past a bit annoying.
However, I can personally guarantee that if you see this movie you will likely spend several hours listening to the soundtrack on repeat. That’s worth it to me.