La La Land

John Thomas
Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) and Mia (Emma Stone) in LA LA LAND.

A poetic love letter to Hollywood. The opening scene. What better way to introduce a film set in Southern California than showing lines of stalled traffic on a freeway? There may sherbet-colored skies over the placid Pacific Ocean in the background, but it’s still a clogged freeway and no one is moving.

Suddenly movement, a car door opens and the driver bursts from her car into song, then another door opens and another and another until soon the freeway is filled with joyful singers and dancers hopping on, over and around their abandoned vehicles.

As suddenly as this spectacle began, it is over and the story begins. In the glorious tradition of Hollywood storytelling, this is a love story, the story of Mia, an aspiring actress (Emma Stone) and Sebastian a driven pianist (Ryan Gosling).

This same story may have been told many times before, as a comedy or a tragedy, in black and white or in color, big screen or small, young characters or old; but this film is different from all the rest. It’s been told by a director (Damien Chazelle) of great knowledge, insight, creativity and imagination. Throughout this captivating film one can see the occasional touch of Fred and Ginger, perhaps a dash of Gene Kelley maybe a scene reminiscent of “West Side Story” or a flash of “Fame” all skillfully woven together by the cinematic artistry of the director.

Chazelle’s colleagues made significant contributions to the success of this film. The lighting is inventive, the editing superb, casting is brilliant, the musical score sublime. I heard the main theme “City of Stars” played so many times at the Venice Film Festival (where the film premiered), that I almost know the words by heart.

This is not another old person’s look into the traditions of Hollywood. Even when the actors are performing in a studio with only an image of a California sunset in the background, and not the real thing, it’s okay. After all, this movie is an homage to Hollywood! Several other prominent and not-so-prominent locations in the LA basin are also used as backgrounds.

The Griffith Observatory creates a inspiring setting for some exterior scenes but an ideal, surreal one for an interior sequence. Neon signs reading “Formosa,” “Musso and Frank” and a peek at The Argyle on the Sunset Strip all contribute to the genuine quality of this film. Besides, Sebastian just wouldn’t be Sebastian behind the wheel of anything other car than his 70’s maroon, Buick Regal convertible.

La la land is a euphemism often used to describe the area nestled within the mountain ranges surrounding the Los Angeles basin, and more specifically the city of Hollywood. The term describes a state of being out of touch with reality, a fantasy prone personality. How beautifully this term describes Hollywood and this film. La la land is Hollywood and Hollywood is “La La Land.”



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