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La La Land Review: A Trip To The Stars

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Isn’t it lovely when you find a film that will show you your heart’s desire, far from the everyday chaos and cynicism of our times? Damien Chazelle’s La La Land is that cinematic sugar rush. That unapologetically romantic and nostalgia-inducing film which makes you fall in love with the cold darkness of a movie hall all over again.

At heart, La La Land has a cherubic naïvety akin to that of films like Roman Holiday and Singing in The Rain. And what matters is the film’s ardent faith in that naivety. It’s a warm hug to those who nurture the craziest dreams, who struggle and yet cannot seem to find success. It’s an ode to old-fashioned love stories which refuse to end; so what if destiny willed it?

***

Lonely and gloomy Jazz musician Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) first meets aspiring actress Mia (Emma Stone) at a traffic jam. Busy practicing her lines for an audition, Mia forgets to start the car even as the traffic finally moves. He honks. She shows him her middle finger. He overtakes with a disdainful nod.

Their first impression is that the other is just another rat in the Hollywood race.

It’s an opinion they revise at their very next encounter. At this point, their life too seems stuck in a jam. Mia has just flunked another audition. Sebastian is half-heartedly playing Christmas jingles at a crowded restaurant. Neither the music industry nor the market wants pure jazz, which is his true love. Minutes into the scene, Sebastian can’t resist improvising and plays a piece. The boss, who has already warned him, fires him.

And this is when, just as their life seems to be going nowhere, they find each other. 

The melodrama in the scene is sublime. The despondent Mia drifts into the restaurant where Sebastian is playing his composition like (to quote Arundhati Roy) “a passenger drifts towards an unoccupied chair in an airport lounge”. She sees him at the piano, cut off from the cacophony around. And cannot take her eyes off him. The music or that sight of him lost in the music strikes something raw in her, instantly heartens her. Later, they dance to “A Lovely Night” in the magic hour, and sing that beautiful duet “City Of Stars”.

Everything the film touches – love, humour and life – plays out naturally. In an early scene, Sebastian takes Mia to a club where he plays and tells her about jazz and his ambition of opening a club where only pure jazz will be played. His face shivers and brightens, and his eyes glitter. She watches him talk, and smiles. She’s found another miserable human being who, like her, is lost in impossible dreams.

There are beautiful pauses in La La Land. When a head turns, or a glance, and the heart freezes. These are moments when the audience can stop and feel the characters’ emotions like a lump in their throat. The film is kind to its protagonists in an unusual way. Even in the midst of the glitz and glamour of Hollywood, the camera sticks to the beguiling modesty of Mia. When Mia and Sebastian have to choose between their career and love, the film shortens their exchanges. Instead of displaying the ugliness of what must have ensued, we hear them tell each other, “I think I am going to always love you.” And they do, even as life takes its course.

***

It’s hard to say who excels more in this musical. Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone flawlessly complement each other, completing each other’s steps and lines. Stone’s wide eyes brilliantly portrays Mia’s vulnerability and frailty. Gosling has a smile that can hurt and pour bliss into your heart all at once. When they sing, the hesitation in her voice blends beautifully with the delicate depth of his voice.

La La Land might not be the best movie of the year. There are movies made on a wider, far greater canvas waiting in line to take the top awards at this year’s Oscar. But La La Land reassures us about what Hollywood is capable of. The film’s epilogue is a spectacle that reminds us of the romance that is possible. The romance that wishes for nothing except a companion to share the maddest dreams with.

*****

La La Land review is a Silverscreen original article. It was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the movie. Silverscreen.in and its writers do not have any commercial relationship with movies that are reviewed on the site.

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