I hate musicals. I know it’s a strange statement to make hailing from India as practically every Indian film has at least three to five songs on a minimum. However, it must be noted that seldom are these songs integral to the plot neither does the plot progress through these songs. They are mere props to stage elaborate sequences that only enthrall you but also give you a sometimes welcome break from the narrative. The Hollywood Musical is, however, a totally different story. Not only does it have songs, but the whole plot practically advances through the many songs and the tale is sometimes explicitly called out through the lyrics of these songs which are also dramatically enacted by the actors. I could never really put up with that. The last time I tried and failed to sit through a musical was Les Misérables in 2012. The only exception to this exclusion has been the 2007 Tim Burton film, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.
Having such a disdain for this genre made it even more difficult for me to sit through La La Land which was garnering extremely positive reviews and I couldn’t help but give it a try. The film started not all that great for me as it was also plagued with the same problems (for me) that were the case in general with musicals. However, the second half of the film really engrossed me to a great extent. Matters were further helped by the exceptionally great acting of Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone. The film chronicles the journey of Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) and Mia (Emma Stone) who meet each other at an extremely confusing and difficult time in their lives and fall in love with each other. While Sebastian tries to open a club of his own to make it the last and ultimate surviving heaven of Jazz, Mia tries to make it big in Hollywood. As they fall for each other, their love and attachment make them do stuff that may not be exactly what their dreams were made off.
La La Land is an extremely well-shot film. The song and dance sequences comprise of vibrant colors and a lot of long takes that you will definitely stand up and take notice. The choreography of the songs and the surrealistic feel in which the sequences are captured will help sustain your interest in the songs even if you are not a fan of the genre like me. Even in the sequences not featuring music and dance, the brilliance of the cinematography is noticeable and so is the editing. Director Damien Cazzelle’s last film Whiplash (which happens to be one of my all time favorites) won an Oscar for editing. Interestingly it was also a film about music but not a musical. Tom Cross edits this one too and he has done a hell of a job. The seamless flow of the sequences coupled with wonderfully shot selections that combine to evoke meaning is seen throughout the narrative.
The performances by the leading pair are stunning. Gosling and Stone share a sparkling chemistry and through the surrealistic world of music and dance, they are still able to hit that chord in your heart which tells you that their romance and story is very real. The sequences where they prove to be the solace for each other and also the ones in which they hurt each other are wonderfully envisioned and acted. There are little moments like the one in which Stone is having a telephonic conversation with her mom and Sebastian overhears her talking and the subtle changes in his facial reactions convey a lot and tells us what he is about to do. His belief that Mia wants him to settle down better than pursuing his dream ultimately leads the two into an altercation which is easily one of the high points of the narrative. This is yet another sequence that is extremely well acted.
The music for the film is terrific. There is no doubt about it. Apart from the songs, the background score too has a lot of penchant for being in tune with the story and the sequences. Even though these bits lost me here and there, I felt and noticed that at most junctures, the lyrics were in strong keeping with the mood and the phase that the story was in. Whatever I missed of the music was not because the music was the problem. It was primarily because I am just so so much away from this type of presentation.
To sum it all up, I have to say that I being able to sit through this film was proof enough of this being an extremely well-made film. Musicals are just not my thing and this film, with its simplistic and overdone story, was still able to keep me hooked for over two hours. It’s imperative that there must be something great in the direction, performances, visuals and in the manner in which this film unfolds that kept me hooked. Those, I believe, are some of the essential qualities that make a film great. For the lovers of the genre, this will be a path breaking film. For those who enjoy all genres, this will be a great watch and the skeptics like me will also be able to sit through it easily. That I believe is saying a lot. If being a great film means transcending all genres and appealing to one and all, La La Land is a great film.
Rating : 4/5 (4 out of 5 Stars)