First Watch · Movies

La La Land


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City of stars…
Are you shining just for me?
City of stars…
There’s so much that I can’t see.
Who knew.
Is this the start of something wonderful?
Or… one more dream that I cannot make true.

Fade away reality. Welcome to the dream world of La La Land. A movie with stark and elegant slices of bittersweet life served on a dazzling musical platter by director Damien Chazelle.

Poignant together are Mia Dolan (Emma Stone) and Sebastian Wilder (Ryan Gosling), two fools who dream. She, a waitress, of being an actress. He, in countless gigs, of opening his own club with unadulterated jazz music.

We are in Los Angeles, city of angels, a perfect stage for this kind of story. In a delightful opening sequence, cars are stuck in a traffic jam on a freeway. It is hot, it is frustrating and it is chaotic. And then you hear beats and watch people leave their cars for a sing and dance to Another Day of Sun.

The song ends, and they meet in this setting. It’s not pretty at all.

Next, she hears him play on piano his own original and melting composition City of Stars in a club. He brushes past as she tries compliment him.

It’s third time lucky when she subjects his purist soul to new wave song I ran at an entertainment party.

Soon after, with a spontaneous dance in Hollywood Hills, love takes off and flies in various parts of LA. They float across the sky, literally, in an Observatory no less.

Until reality sets in. Sigh.

Romance collides with individual ambitions.

In a moving sequence, a seemingly cheerful Sebastian is enjoying his moment of glory on stage, succumbing to more commercial pop-jazz. Shocked and sad, Mia observes him along with the delighted audience knowing it is not his style of music.

The director wrote the screenplay for La La Land in 2010 when he was struggling to make it in the movies. He wanted “to take the old musical but ground it in real life where things don’t always exactly work out… pay homage and salute people with an unrealistic state of mind who move to LA to chase their dreams.”

Just know that Chazelle chips away piece by piece to reveal enduring love – enveloped snugly by dreams – in its finest form.

A powerhouse team helps realise the director’s fantasy.

Editor Tom Cross cuts the movie to a seamless, smooth watch. You only flinch when you feel for the characters.

A soaring, glittering score is composed and orchestrated by Justin Hurwitz, Chazelle’s Harvard classmate. Flawless, haunting words are written by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul. With distinct songs such as Another Day of Sun, Someone in the CrowdA Lovely NightCity of Stars and Audition (The Fools Who Dream) set in classic mould, this album is a definite keeper.

Impeccably choreographed dances by Mandy Moore are subtly gorgeous, never stealing the limelight from Mia and Sebastian as they go through their motions.

Linus Sandgren photographs Ryan and Emma with tender, loving care and pulls in the pastels and grandeur to capture Chazelle’s vision of a “poetic” Los Angeles. The result is a marvellous, imaginative treat.

Now for the quiet triumph of performances. Ryan is splendid and shining, absorbing Sebastian’s success and defeat with discerning fortitude. His final piano interlude is a revelation of his capabilities as a performer. Emma is magnificent and luminous as Mia. It’s her story and she is all in. Breathe up and bask in the heart and glory of her last audition.

Together, their eyes glow with fire. Lips move to lyrical perfection. Bodies glide effortlessly. You feel emotions simmer as they hit the final, perfect note.

Surrender then to Damien Chazelle’s whistling starry, astounding ride. It will haunt you long after the tingling music is over.

Here’s to the ones who dream…
Foolish as they seem.
Here’s to the hearts that ache
Here’s to the mess we make.

cinemaspotter rating: *****

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