If you grew up in the era of big budget musicals on the big screen (think everything from Music Man to Hello Dolly to the Sound of Music), then ‘La,La Land’ will not seem so unique. It is however an excellent film with lots of heart, great music, enjoyable stars (Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling make for an interesting pairing) ‘traditional’ cinematography, and a romantic story line. And amazingly it mostly avoids bad language, and it has absolutely zero violence or lurid scenes. Shoot, I took my 90 year old Momma to this movie and she enjoyed it.
In essence the story is about pursuing your dreams, or alternatively, settling for what works. The summary from the producers says it all. “LA LA LAND tells the story of Mia [Emma Stone], an aspiring actress, and Sebastian [Ryan Gosling], a dedicated jazz musician, who are struggling to make ends meet in a city known for crushing hopes and breaking hearts. Set in modern day Los Angeles, this original musical about everyday life explores the joy and pain of pursuing your dreams.” But lest you see this movie as just an exercise in throwback entertainment from an earlier era, in fact it has a message. You can learn from the past, but you cannot live there. You can appreciate the past, but you cannot recreate it. And as John Legend, who plays a musician named Keith, says you can’t do something revolutionary by simply doing something traditional. Nostalgia may produce a momentary warm glow, but it is not the future of films, or music, or plays, etc. Those who try to live in the past end up as glorious anachronisms, watching the world pass them by (think e.g. the Amish).
The movie is written and directed by Damien Chazelle and the excellent score is by Justin Hurwitz, not accidentally a classmate of Damien’s at Harvard, and collaborator with him on two previous films. Though the movie breaks the two hour barrier (128 minutes), it never drags, always perked up by yet another great song. This is a good holiday film for the entire family, and it leads to a question—- Which is more important, if you have to choose—- pursuing your dream or making compromises so you can marry the one you truly love? Or can you have both? Perhaps in La, La Land, but not in this movie, as it turns out.