Mia, an aspiring actress, serves lattes to movie stars in between auditions and Sebastian, a jazz musician, scrapes by playing cocktail party gigs in dingy bars, but as success mounts they are faced with decisions that begin to fray the fragile fabric of their love affair, and the dreams they worked so hard to maintain in each other threaten to rip them apart.
Review La La Land
Review La La Land
Caught in the webbing of failure in Los Angeles, Mia (Emma Stone) is an aspiring actress who can’t get a career going, burning through humiliating auditions without success, feeling the pressure to make something of herself as others achieve their goals. One night, Mia meets Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), a jazz pianist whose dedication to the history of the musical genre has prevented him from achieving a regular gig, finding his style out of step with the times. The pair bonds over their shared professional stasis, unable to find maturity in the midst of perceived failure. But they do have love, which fuels their growing relationship, offering mutual support as they attempt to shake up their lives through risk. With their union on the line as opportunities and mistakes deliver unexpected results, Mia and Sebastian are forced to confront their romance and the magic it no longer provides.
“La La Land” is an unabashed offering of nostalgia, with Chazelle using the opening titles to set the mood, inventing a 1950s-style logo for Summit Entertainment, while proclaiming the picture to be a CinemaScope production. It’s cute, but the feature isn’t a period piece, opening with an elaborate number that smashes the drudgery of Los Angeles traffic, highlighting a mass of irritable commuters shaking away the blues through song and dance, taking over the highway. “La La Land” has its heart in the past but its mind in the now, taking time to meet Mia and Sebastian, who initially spot each other on the road, heading off to their separate stories of professional discontent. They’re struggling souls, with Mia trying to break into acting, feeling the stars in her eyes begin to dim as she endures painful auditions with disrespectful casting professionals. Sebastian remains committed to the purity of jazz, surviving unfulfilling gigs at restaurants (J.K. Simmons, who won an Oscar for his work in “Whiplash,” makes a cameo as an eatery owner), clinging to a vision of his own nightclub that mixes the sophisticated pleasures of jazz with the deliciousness of chicken.
The twosome represents all dreamers, and such spirit is the essence of “La La Land,” which details the dilution of professional enthusiasm as the excitement of romance grows. Mia and Sebastian aren’t made for each other, but they share determination to fit their squareness into L.A.’s round hole of success, and their timing matches perfectly, stepping away from mounting bitterness to participate in musical numbers around the city, exposing their sparkling chemistry. Chazelle possesses a distinct vision for the song and dance interludes, with all of them celebrating the lost charms of Los Angeles, watching two old souls take a travelogue-style journey around the city, including a major set piece at the Griffith Observatory. We watch the pair, inspired by a problematic screening of “Rebel Without a Cause,” storm the property, twirling around the exhibits before officially launching into the sky to dance around the galaxy. Such surges of fantasy are the norm in “La La Land,” meant to sweep the audience off its feet as reality is broken, and Chazelle deserves credit for his enthusiasm, overseeing a balance of the real and unreal with full attention to cinematographic color and romantic L.A. architecture.
Preciousness threatens to invade “La La Land,” which stretches over a full two hours to explore a story that doesn’t earn that kind of run time. We’ve been here before, watching kindred spirits experience bad timing, losing the purity of love as the outside world crashes in. For Mia, professional hopelessness results in the mounting of a one-woman play. Sebastian receives an opportunity to join a successful jazz band, and one that modernizes the genre, forcing the fatigued pianist to decide between stability and integrity. Formula could be explained away as homage, but Mia and Sebastian aren’t interesting people to begin with, and despite their extensive professional history, chemistry between Gosling and Stone is debatable (he seems like more of a parent than a lover). What goes up soon comes down, and “La La Land” doesn’t subvert expectations, exploring how the once twinkly couple begins to turn on each other as they sell out in their own ways, leading to excessive, unfocused scenes of argumentative behavior.