“La La Land” is Damien Chazelle’s follow up to the Oscar-nominated “Whiplash”; both films are about ambition, desire, conflict, and the ache to succeed, and both (in my opinion) are exceptional. However, where “La La Land” sets itself apart is in its ability not only to demonstrate how desire can be corrosive, but also how it can unite like-minded people.
“Whiplash” portrays ambition as a volatile and destructive force in a person’s life, whereas “La La Land” depicts it as something which can bring people together. It’s a film which by its very nature is larger-than-life; dance numbers and lovesick melodies break out at will, all the characters are sickeningly beautiful, and everything is drenched in either sunshine or twinkling starlight. Yet, at the same time, the struggle that we all face on a daily basis for love, success, and validation is portrayed with a heart-breaking sense of realism.
It’s about the passion that an artist has not only to achieve their dreams, but more importantly to equal their expectations for what they should be, and this secondary motivation is what makes the film work. At around the halfway point, Sebastian (played by Ryan Gosling) has resolved to put his dreams on hold and to replace them with his girlfriend’s because this is what he thinks she wants. However, all this does is disappoint her. It causes friction between them because the thing that brought them together has begun to play second fiddle to compromise and keeping their relationship alive. This is the conflict of the film, and it’s one which plays out on screen with just enough subtlety to allow the film to function both as a popcorn flick and as a critic’s dream.
Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling are both that ‘person in the crowd’ that takes the other where they want to go, but their relationship isn’t the end goal. Their life together gives them everything that they want – one believes in the other and vice versa – but it also slowly destroys what they loved the most about each other. To give away where this conflict takes them would be to spoil the film, but it’s safe to say that the film’s climax is what truly makes it great. It ties everything together perfectly, and leaves you with a smile on your face but a tear in your eye.
In summary, “La La Land” is shot, directed, and performed impeccably. Whilst it’s most easily described as a musical, it’s so much more than that. The music is great and the production gives the whole thing a playful feel which keeps the tone light, but this film would work even without the glitz and the glamour that its genre provides. It’s a powerful film delivered brilliantly by a very talented director, and the lead performances from Stone and Gosling are exceptional.