Do you know that feeling of recognizing a song you swear you have never heard before? Like the melodies were etched in your mind and the next note feels effortless and predestined, but still surprising and new?
That’s the romantic trip that is La La Land.
A musical that honors past legends with modern sensibility, La La Land re-adapts an old genre for a new era with unselfconscious elegance.
The story finds aspiring actress and barista Mia (Emma Stone) pursuing dizzying rounds of auditions when she stumbles repeatedly into almost-suave pianist Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), who supports her dream even as she challenges his.
Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling flicker with the same sideways-smile-inducing chemistry they sparked in Crazy, Stupid, Love. And yes, the same run-into-each-other kisses that Gosling trademarked in The Notebook.
In an aesthetic sense, the movie is reminiscent of The Notebook as it glows with the vibrant but soft color tones of another era. Indeed, it draws visual inspiration from An American in Paris and inserts easter-egg references to Hairspray and Grease. It name-drops the best musicians of jazz and echoes tap-dance moves from Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire.
Still, the film retains its own identity. It builds emotional credibility by referencing itself with inside jokes. The original details reinforce the narrative, proving this is not a recycled story and these are not stock-characters. This is story-telling. These are storytellers.
This movie doesn’t just tell you to chase your dreams like a flamboyant feel-good flick. It shows you that dreams are possible. Then it shows you how easy it is to lose them. They can melt away into a nostalgic song, a nod at what could’ve been.
La La Land has classic musical staples with entrancing music and electrifying dance, but that’s only the setting. The script surprises with incisive dialogue, dramatic irony, and burning comebacks.
John Legend, the real-life singer who plays the band’s front man scolds Sebastian, saying, “How are you gonna be a revolutionist, if you’re such a traditionalist?”
A jazz purist, Sebastian had nearly quit the band upon realizing the band’s instruments included a beat-producing drum machine.
“You’re holding onto the past, but jazz is about the future,” Legend continues with charismatic clairvoyance. The film certainly heeds his warning. The film could have spiraled into a fanboy ode to movies and musicians past. Instead, it infuses modern elements into classic traditions to become a relevant, timely, yet timeless movie that will be always new but never old.
Like a saxophonist in a band who improvises a riff, the film flips to intentionally out-of-place twists, where the characters float in suspended, fantastical choreography.
The film may have classic halter cuts, oxford wingtip shoes, and a vintage convertible, but it also has YouTube sensation fame, iPhones, and a real pop star.
“It’s conflict and it’s compromise; it’s very, very exciting,” Sebastian gushes to Mia as he explains the tension between all the jazz players competing to have a turn at the improvised solos. The film’s tension parallels the music’s: “It’s brand new every time,” he says, and you can’t help but realize that the film would likewise feel new and fulfilling with every replay.
La La Land is out now in theaters.