‘La La Land’ in review

Damien Chazelle’s hit musical lives up to the hype

More stories from Nicole Bellford



“La La Land,” coming to the Woodland Theater Sept. 15-17, tells the story of two aspiring artists who fall in love amidst chasing their dreams.

In Damien Chazelle’s 2016 hit musical “La La Land,” it is anything but love at first sight for aspiring actress, Mia (Emma Stone) and jazz musician, Sebastian (Ryan Gosling).

In fact, it was quite the opposite.

Despite the unlikely pair’s rough first encounters, Mia and Sebastian slowly but surely fall in love over their shared enthusiasm for chasing their dreams in contemporary Los Angeles.

For Mia, becoming a famed actress means continuing the legacy her aunt left behind and telling her own children all the dazzling stories of being centerstage.

The opportunity for Sebastian to open his own jazz club means rejuvenating a genre lost in the technical sounds of mainstream music and getting the chance to receive some well deserved praise for his talents on the piano.

The young, quirky couple starts out on top of the world until reality slowly sets in and the pain of countless callbacks, unpaid music gigs and rejection begins to make their relationship boil. Suddenly, the “city of stars” no longer shines quite as bright and the two are left doubting what the future holds both for one another and for their respective careers.

However, just as all hope is lost, the two inspire one another to press on in the pursuit of following their passions. Just as everything seems to fall into place, Mia and Sebastian are forced to make a decision that ultimately places their relationship at a crossroads, making them decide between chasing their hearts or their dreams.

It is no secret Chazelle’s film is highly decorated with numerous accolades such as the Golden Globe for best picture and the Oscar for best achievement in cinematography. Nevertheless, I watched this film for the first time with a skeptical eye.

A recurring critique I have for musical movies is their lack of a grasp on reality. The love never seems as genuine, the sadness doesn’t feel as raw and the ending always strays just a little too far from believable.

The film’s opening number made me nervous Chazelle had made the same mistake as his predecessors. As the camera swoops in on the scene of a typical late afternoon traffic buildup in LA, a group of young hopefuls depart from their steering wheels and engage in a dance number, singing along to the debut song “Another Day in the Sun.” While beautifully composed and performed, the scene strayed on the outskirts of reality.

However, I was willing to accept this outstretched opening scene as it served the perfect transition to Mia and Sebastian’s cringeworthy first encounter. The remainder of the film was shockingly realistic, allowing me to understand the genuine struggles of succeeding in the big city with passions such as acting or music.

Mia and Sebastian’s love story was both believable and heartbreaking. They experienced the kind of love I wanted to root for throughout the plot, yet knew somewhere deep in my heart it was destined to fail. Stone and Gosling’s chemistry was breathtaking, their voices meshing beautifully to achieve quality harmonies in a handful of their performances.

Rather than painting the picture of a happy ending, Chazelle did an excellent job of showcasing the harsh realities of mixing love and business, especially in the case of the performing arts. In addition, the decision to add a closing scene that proposed an “alternate reality” for Mia and Sebastian was exceptional, highlighting how certain decisions in life can constantly leave someone wondering what could have been.

Aside from plot and performances, the film truly soared in terms of cinematography and color. Each scene was exquisitely framed, focusing closely on Stone and Gosling’s emotions during each trial and triumph.

Color was utilized in such a way each scene felt like a work of art, from the contrast of Mia’s yellow sundress against a blue-toned LA skyline to the chaotic shades of red bouncing off Sebastian’s face as he struggled to fit into a mainstream jazz band performance.

Overall, this musically oriented love story held true to its plethora of awards and honors. To see the beauty unfold, be sure to attend one of the film’s showings this weekend. Showtimes are 7 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday on Sept. 15-17 at Woodland Theater.