Musicals have always had a special place in my heart. As a theater nerd in high school (and, though I get embarrassed to say it, tap dancer for many years), the genre resonates with many different experiences I’ve had throughout my life.
Standing on the shoulders of giants, I found myself a little nervous about giving La La Land a chance. Having seen my fair share of Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, and many a rewatch of Pal Joey, I knew that my opinion of the movie would be highly criticized. Though I pushed it off day after day, eventually my curiosity, and what I hoped to be an amazing soundtrack, got the better of me. I went to see it.
La La Land caught me off guard. I’ll try to stay as spoiler free as possible, but I do have a lot to talk about. Giving a quick recap for those who haven’t seen it, the movie follows a love story between Mia and Sebastian as they travel through their lives trying to make their dreams come true in a city that never seems to give them a break. The premise alone made me extremely nervous, the cliches and already overdone romcom vibe gave me little hope for the script.
It was this premise however, that very well may have been one of my favorite things about the movie. I felt as though the tale, though a bit stale admittedly, was played in a unique way behind the backdrop of the songs. There wasn’t any risk per say, nothing truly experimental was played with in terms of the actual plot, but the overall surrealism of L.A. made for a cute way of looking at their love.
Surrealism was a major part of the story. The relationship is played in ways that are supposed to be symbolic for the stages of their feelings for one another. Using elements of nonsense and suspension of disbelief, La La Land tries to whisk you away to a beautiful world where the L.A. highway is nothing more than a stage and breaking into the Griffith Observatory on a first date is a great way to end up dancing with the stars. It’s a lovey-dovey world in which romance and passion are the most important things. What surprised me however, was that it worked.
It reminds me of Midnight in Paris, specifically the overall tone of trying to forget the real world for one built on simpler, more gripping emotions. However, where MIP tried to convey the feeling with renowned artists of the 1920s, La La Land uses music.
It’s one of the best parts of the entire movie. The soundtrack is the glue that holds the entire plot together, both as a plot device and as a way of invoking a strong sense of Despair and Nostalgia. The happier songs like “A Lovely Night” and Mia and Sebastian’s main theme force you to root for their love to grow strong. The beautiful and melancholy “City of Stars” makes you remember the first love who got away. Each song is produced and played at times when the surrealist imagery is the strongest, which helped me put myself Sebastain’s shoes. With each blow I felt myself getting weaker, until the powerful ringer at the end that had me close to tears.
The music pulls the movie together, and many of my friends who have seen it, reached the same conclusion. This is the love story of you, the viewer. Sebastian’s and Mia’s growth and eventual decline is very similar to that one love you had slip through your fingers. The visceral raw emotion played by each song in perfect tandem with the passing seasons of each major arc depict a love story as strong and romantic as the city of Paris. It was this ability to pull me into the story, attach me to the characters, and show me something my heart desired that made me fall in love with the La La Land.
Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling are amazing, the music is gorgeous, the story is adorable, and the visuals are some of the best I’ve seen from a romantic movie in a while. Throwing in jazz, and it has officially become one of my favorite movies of the year. It took what was admittedly a dying genre and revamped it with fresh faces, making musicals that much more accessible in coming years. I loved it to bits and would recommend it to anyone looking for a fresh adorable romance to get behind. You will definitely be buying the soundtrack right after you see it.