Review: Oscar favorite La La Land is for the ones that dream

The best description I can give of the movie La La Land is that it serves as the optimistic alternative to director Damien Chazelle’s 2014 film Whiplash. Both of these films deal heavily with the dreams of aspiring artists. But where Whiplash is a troubling dive into the dark side of obsessive ambition, La La Land is a modern-day Hollywood fairytale with an inspiring message about the importance of working hard to keep dreams alive.

La La Land follows the story of two young lovers pursuing their passions in Los Angeles. Emma Stone plays Mia, an actress looking for her chance to shine while stuck working in a backlot coffee shop. Ryan Gosling plays Sebastian, a pianist trapped playing uninteresting songs in a restaurant while harboring the desire to open his own jazz club. Our two protagonists meet and develop a whirlwind romance, but the relationship becomes strained when their artistic dreams threaten to tear them away from each other.

Damien Chazelle, who both wrote and directed the film, does his best work yet with La La Land. This is a loving tribute to the film musicals of old Hollywood, and Chazelle infuses the story with the sweet and touching sincerity that characterized this period of filmmaking. Much of the film was shot on soundstages, which gives it a classic feel that stands out against many other movies. The cinematography is simple, but effective at creating a dreamy atmosphere which highlights the emotions of the characters.On a technical level, La La Land is breathtaking. Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling both deliver powerhouse performances, and their easy chemistry lends the romance a feeling of credibility. Their relationship felt grounded, and the script doesn’t shy away from the issues that plague many real life couples. The film ends on a bittersweet note that felt very appropriate for the story being told.

By far, the most impressive aspect of La La Land is its music. The songs are catchy, emotionally charged, and impeccably well-choreographed. The film’s opening number, “Another Day of Sun”, was especially strong. The score composed by Justin Hurwitz is beautiful and haunting. They are well complimented by the lyrics written by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul If I had one criticism, it’s that I wish the film had even more songs. There are only a handful of real musical numbers, mostly clustered in the first half of the movie. As a fan of musicals, I was a little bit disappointed, but this is a very minor complaint. The music is still fantastic. I downloaded the soundtrack as soon as I left the theater, and I’ve been listening to it repeatedly ever since.

My expectations for La La Land were extremely high going in, and I’m delighted to say that the film exceeded them. As someone with a passion for the cinema, I fell in love with this film’s direction and design aesthetic. In the end, the power of La La Land comes from its hopeful message. This film reminds us that no matter how bad things get, we should never give up the pursuit of our dreams. Things don’t always work out as we hope. Sometimes we have to swallow our pride and make compromises. But if we stay strong and keep doing the things we love, happiness will find us eventually. In the words of Emma Stone’s character Mia, “Here’s to the ones who dream”.