La La Land shows you the window from ‘Casablanca’ where Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman shot an iconic scene, it also shows the inside of the Griffith observatory from ‘Rebel without a cause’ and gracefully imitates ‘Singin’ in the rain’ a number of times while constantly dropping little random props from the many classics Hollywood has produced in its glory days of the 40s and 50s. It confirms that it is not just about an aspiring actress and a struggling jazz pianist, but it is also about the craft, the music scene, the cinema and the city which shelters the craft, the city which has seen Nobodys become somebody. La La Land is about Los Angeles.
It was evident from Damien Chazelle’s first film ‘Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench’ and his masterpiece ‘Whiplash’ that he has a thing for Jazz, only with La La Land, he made the point further clear that it is not just a fling, but a fully fledged romantic affair with Jazz. He would go any distance to savor his passion for it. La La Land is his 3rd film about Jazz, this time set around a love story between a struggling pianist and an aspiring actress, both wanting to make it big doing what they truly love doing.
The opening scene of the film is a long shot which captures a traffic jam on an LA freeway. The idle people sitting in their cars suddenly start singing and dancing, as if introducing us to the film itself. At the end of the opening scene, the music stops, things return to a normal state and the camera slowly zeroes into our lead pair [Gosling and Stone] who are sitting in their own cars totally unaffected and unmoved by all the musical hoopla which happened minutes ago. Sebastian in his vintage convertible honks relentlessly as Mia’s Prius was blocking his way and gets a middle finger in return. That’s how Mia and Sebastian meet for the first time. The grumpiness of their behavior makes you wonder if the opening song really happened or was it just a narrative device for the viewers to give us a description of what we are getting into, a little introduction to La La Land itself.
La La Land is a traditional film, which follows all the conventions of a musical very sincerely. There was an interesting aspect of filmmaking in La La Land; it is set in contemporary times but at the same time it plays with its viewers with subtly by the use of songs and dance and the costumes that you end up asking yourself, “isn’t it totally like the 50s” but then for a microsecond, Chazelle drops in a shot of an iPhone or a laptop, just to clear your doubt and then goes back to its traditional ways. Even the way Chazelle dress Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, it will remind you of the good old days when musicals were the only thing which mattered. Suddenly you see the rest of the cast with their normal clothes and realize once again, that it’s, in fact, a contemporary setup. It’s almost like the film is playing peek-a-boo with you. It’s this ability to make you forget the time La La Land is set in is pure magic from Damien Chazelle.
La La Land truly reveals to you the power of music in a film. The music of La La Land is not just great music but a wonderful storytelling exercise in itself. Every song, every little tune that plays even in the distance means something crucial in the narrative and represents where the film stands at that point. For example, when Sebastian meets Mia after he is totally involved with his band scene and moving away from his dream to save classical jazz, there is the ‘City of stars’ tune playing in the background, only this time, it is a fastened version of the song, not too pleasant to hear.
There are films which look beautiful because they have their hearts at the right place, La La Land isn’t just a film with a correctly placed heart, it’s the heart itself made with passionate music and passionate love, so much that it’s impossible to see it as a film, it’s an experience you subject yourself to.