‘La La Land’ mixes fantasy and reality to create magical moments

Gemma Calandra

“Frozen,” “Moana,” “Hairspray”these are the on-screen musicals that have reached a widespread audience in recent years, finding their way to the musical big leagues right next to “Singin’ in the Rain” and “The Sound of Music.” But what’s been missing are films reminiscent of these classics, capturing the attention of an older audience with their charm and eleganceuntil now.

Trying to find their way in present-day L.A., jazz pianist Sebastian and actress Mia fall in love after a series of chance encounters.
Trying to find their way in present-day L.A., jazz pianist Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) and actress Mia (Emma Stone) fall in love after a series of chance encounters.

Oscar “Best Picture” contender “La La Land” tells the story of two aspiring artists, actress Mia (Emma Stone) and pianist Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), trying to find their way in Los Angeles. After a series of chance encounters, the pair fall in love, taking the viewer along on their journey to fulfill their hopes and dreams.

Writer and director Damien Chazelle, whose filmography also includes Oscar-winner “Whiplash,” is no stranger to combining music and film, and it shows. The music reflects the themes of romance, hope and pain throughout the movie. The songs are expressive, the musical numbers are expertly choreographed, and the long, unbroken shots capture the fluid motion of the dancers.

“La La Land” assumes the willingness of the audience to suspend disbelief, though instead of making some scenes laughable, the mix of fantasy and reality gives the everyday a certain magical quality. In one scene staged at a planetarium, Mia and Sebastian float into the air as they break into a musical number, dancing through the stars. I’ll admit I may have raised my eyebrows, but somehow such moments seemed to belong in “La La Land.” Not everything is meant to be realistic or make complete sense; you can only accept that you’re along for the ride and embrace the filmmakers’ vision.https://vimeo.com/199110554

Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling help keep the movie grounded with their convincing performances and the real-world struggle of their characters trying to make ends meet. Sebastian wants to own a traditional jazz club, while Mia hopes to clinch a successful acting audition. They grapple between taking risks to pursue their passions and playing it safe with a more feasible career, which, in this film both wondrous and at times far-fetched, is a tangible connection that the viewer can make to the lives of the protagonists.

It’s easy to forget that the film takes place in the present day. The sets, colors, and costumes make it fit to watch in an old cinema, complete with a box office out front. However, the movie is peppered with reminders of the time frame in which it takes place, including the popularity of Priuses and a woman asking if her food is gluten-free. This combination of the old and new is somewhat disorienting at first, but the old-school feel of the movie allows it to pay homage to the 20th century musicals that influenced its writers.

Keeping their characters relatable, Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling deliver stellar performances.
Keeping their characters relatable, Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling deliver stellar performances.

The movie exposes the beauty in a city that usually brings to mind smog and traffic. The setting of L.A. has been symbolic of fame, fortune, and big dreams for decades, but Chazelle dives below the surface and proves it is much more. Breathtaking views of the city as the sun sets show its natural appeal, while the characters and their stories give a sense of the people who live there.

“La La Land” is a film enjoyable across generations, from those who want to revisit the musicals of the mid 20th century to those looking for a refreshing break from the constant production and reproduction of run-of-the-mill Hollywood films. Exploring the balance between love and ambition, the movie transports the audience to a land stuck between the past and present where fantasy and reality freely mix, and just might leave you with a few melodies that you can’t seem to shake from your head.