La La Land (Damien Chazelle, 2016) USA

Reviewed by Sue Scaduto as part of SBIFF 2017. Viewed at a special screening at SBIFF 2017 at Antioch University. Written and directed by Damien Chazelle. Original score by Justin Hurwitz.

Sebastian, played by Ryan Gosling and Mia, played by Emma Stone are struggling creatives in Los Angeles. They meet by accident three times and start dating. They encourage each other to follow their dreams, which in the end is what pulls them away from each other.

Sebastian, is a jazz musician who longs to see jazz music make a revival. He wants to buy a former jazz club landmark and open his own club. After hearing Mia on the phone with her disapproving mother, he decides to take a gig playing keys in a successful band, but it’s not jazz music. This gig takes Sebastian on the road a lot and their relationship starts falling apart. Mia challenges him about whether he is settling or following his dream.

Mia, a struggling actress, is going on many auditions but not booking parts. She confides in Sebastian early on that she wrote plays as a kid and he encourages her to write her own stuff that she cast herself in roles instead of waiting for someone else to cast her. She begins writing and producing her own one-woman show. Because of Sebastian’s band’s success, he misses her one performance. This hurts Mia a lot and because the play wasn’t well-attended and she overhears someone criticizing her, she decides to move back how to her parents’ house and give up acting.

A casting director trying to find Mia calls Sebastian to tell him that she is trying to cast Mia in a lead in feature film. He drives to her hometown and figures out where she lives so he can tell her about the opportunity of a lifetime. They drive back to LA where she has a great audition. Sebastian believes in her and that she will book the film. However, they both decide that pursuing their dreams takes precedence over their relationship.

The next scene is five years in the future. We realize that Mia has in fact become a successful actress and has married another man and moved on. Her and husband happen on Sebastian’s nightclub and in a beautiful montage we see how their lives could have turned out has they made different choices but in the end they have peace about it. I found this profoundly moving and sad because I wanted them to be together. I do believe that following your dreams is important but so is real love.

The cinematography of this film is absolutely stunning! The use of colors and lighting, as well as scenery are utterly delightful. Damien Chazelle used elements of cinema verite to film on location all over Los Angeles, giving homage to LA and its Hollywood history.

The original score is fantastic and I couldn’t sit still. In fact, it was so incredibly entertaining to me that I cried tears of joy because I loved it so much.

The opening scene on a crowded LA freeway is so fun and creative. All the different types of folks to be found in LA, dancing and singing around the traffic jam their cars are in is superb.

Many times the scenes took place with a sunset sky in the background. It was visually stunning.

And I love tap dancing and ate up the first time Sebastian and Mia dance in the Hollywood Hills neighborhood as the sun is setting singing to “A Lovely Night”. The tension of their budding romance fills the air as they dance a dance reminiscent of a Gene Kelly or Fred Astaire dance number from the 1940s and 1950s Hollywood musical.

I certainly hope that Damien and partner Justin have a few more musicals up their sleeves as this film was one of the best films I’ve see bar none! Since I’m a musical theater nerd and performer that is a no-brainer. But this film transcended beyond the typical shallow, feel-good musical and gave the audience pause to question what is truly important in life.

About this entry