At his third film as director and screenwriter, Damien Chazelle (born 1985) is back in an exuberant way with a beloved genre to Hollywood and certainly difficult to handle to the present days. It is La la land, a musical to all effects that has had great success and critical acclaim since the preview presentation at the last Venice Film Festival.
The story, set in Los Angeles, stars two young people struggling with the realization of their dreams: Sebastian (a Ryan Gosling in a perfect shape) is a jazz pianist, a lover and faithful traditionalist of the genre, recycled to entertain diners playing only well—known and commercial songs; then there’s Mia (a wonderful Emma Stone, impossible not to fall in love) passionate and introverted actress in her unbounded admiration of the classics (her room is overlooked by a huge Ingrid Bergman facial poster and she works in the Studios in front of the Bogart and Bergman’s balcony in Casablanca). She leaves aside her ambitions to write for the theater to devote herself to get any role, finishing always underestimated in many auditions in which she takes part. In two random circumstances, Mia meets Sebastian (the first, in a traffic jam that, in a full Hollywood style, turns into an orchestral ouverture), united by the common desire to realize their most authentic aspirations, they fall in love. So, while Sebastian wants to restore dignity to an historic jazz club that has now turned into a bar called “Samba & Tapas”, Mia returns to write a play of her own, where she can really make out her passion for acting, together they go through the natural stages of a relationship, hampered by the difficulties to reach each their own dreams.
Why watching it
It could be enough to mention the fact that the film has already literally conquered the Golden Globes, reporting 7 wins out of 7 nominations; or to remember that along with Titanic and All about Eve, it has reached the record of 14 Oscar nominations. But these are only facts and figures.
It is above all a movie about Hollywood and made in Hollywood, a world of its own which is usually difficult to bring back to common people’s reality, although the film is set nowadays. Yet, it would be equally ungenerous and insignificant to label it simply as a work that aims to arouse nostalgia for the old days, those on which the film does not spare the countless citations from the places (the “Griffiths Observatory” of Rebel without a cause) to the music sequences that cannot fail to remember a little Singing in the rain or West Side Story. Even the ardor with which Sebastian defends the real jazz contaminated from modern music is a kind of nostalgic homage to jazz to its most prosperous time and its “gods”; jazz which, according to him, is now dying (called into question as a supporting role to give the voice of modernity that advances is the singer-songwriter John Legend, who, with a piece of the soundtrack, whatever genre it is, did manage to move to the music’s rhythm all the people present at the projection). Despite all this, the story is basically the common story of two young people struggling with the illusions and frustrations of everyday life.
At a time when in the living rooms it is used a lot to say “the TV series are the new cinema”, “now the studios are called Netflix and Amazon”, “loans are given only to multiplex’s superheroes, authors must move elsewhere: now the Coen brothers will make a show as well”; here, in this precise time, that the film of the year is a title that exudes Cinema — and that only on the cinema screen can be born, miraculously and magically – it is a fact rather unexpected*.
If all this was not enough as an incentive, on the technical level the film really missed very little, and maybe that is why it has collected an impressive number of nominations: every aspect is taken care with great attention to detail, with special regard to cinematography, choreography and, be it obvious, the music; nonetheless, no doubt this sense of technical perfection is also due to the impressive performance of Gosling-Stone duo, perfect and magnetic, impossible not to be emotionally affected by their vicissitudes.
Finally, on a purely personal basis, I found that the film is not trivial in the message that it wishes to give voice to as a significance. Perhaps it is a message already seen many times, however, here it comes without being cloying or trite: the dreams, whatever they are, and passions are what keep us alive and they must always be pursued at any cost and despite everything. If you can dream it, you can do it, but without forgetting that this will always involve the (often considerable) waivers, even to what might be called “the perfect life”.
Who may dislike?
The genre often happens to keep away many people. It can be a good motivation if the musical comedy is just unbearable – although I would urge you to make an extra effort and get up from the couch to enjoy everything else.
Some negative criticism has been raised at the movie on the theme of jazz music, claiming that the film gives a partial, simplistic and reductive view of what modern jazz is today, far from dying and threatened by influences from other genres, such as electronic or rock, with which instead was able to mingle without distorting its identity**.
How are you gonna be a revolutionary if you’re such a traditionalist? You hold onto the past, but jazz is about the future.
(Keith/John Legend to Sebastian)
People love what other people are passionate about.
* Freely translated from the article of Mattia Carzaniga (who I thank), which appeared the 19th of January on www.rivistastudio.com (in italian)
** The thorough critic is on vulture.com