La La Land, written and directed by Damien Chazelle, provides both a stirring and gut-wrenching experience. It is a film steeped in fantasy and realism that will warm and shatter the hearts of audiences. This film draws much inspiration from Jacques Demy’s filmography, particularly The Umbrellas of Cherbourg and Les Demoiselles de Rochefort. These two films have provided inspiration to La La Land with regards to basic narrative structure and use of color.
Much like Demy’s Umbrellas, La La Land’s narrative centers around two people who fall in love. The only substantial difference between the two films is that La La Land explores the experience of chasing dreams. Ryan Gosling’s character, Sebastian, believes in the feeling of traditional jazz and wants to establish his own jazz club. Emma Stone’s character, Mia, desperately wants to be an actress. Throughout the pursuit of their dreams, they form a formidable relationship with one another that faces many obstacles as each individual works to achieve their dreams.
Chazelle’s use of color in the film is striking, and Demy’s Demoiselles has provided inspiration for the use of color in this film. Every scene showcases bright and muted color grading. Each shot masterfully blends these pastel hues to create images that evoke a sense of warmth, excitement, and love.
It is clear from watching this film that Chazelle understands the fundamentals of directing. He understands that clear and good directing stems largely from showing the audience only important pieces of information. Camerawork that showcases every particular action taken by a character often results in a jarring experience. Editors may have to use excessive cuts to divide a scene and thus, the rhythm of the scene is thrown completely off balance. However, Chazelle maintains the rhythm of each sequence through intentional and smooth camerawork that does not overwhelm the scene.
Apart from the excellent filmmaking mechanics of La La Land, the experience and emotion of the film, characterized by a journey between two people toward their dreams, is also a noteworthy aspect. Like any other relationship, the relationship between Sebastian and Mia suffers many lows and enjoys many high points. Chazelle invites audiences to participate in this relationship by creating easily relatable characters. Audiences are able to empathize with characters who have deep aspirations and passions as well as goals they long to achieve.
Watching these characters pursue their dreams and energetically talk about their passions makes them more real. The audience is also able to understand the relationship between Sebastian and Mia because their story itself is realistic. Taking inspiration from The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, Chazelle turns from the picture-perfect relationship often displayed in 1970s and 80s Hollywood films and instead decides to focus on a real and difficult connection between two people who are trying to manage their relationship and careers.
Although the film features significant moments of reality, it also uses fantastical moments to illustrate the love and passion that is shared between these two characters. These fantastical sequences perfectly capture the essence of cinema. The concluding sequence in particular captures the essence of filmmaking as a visual medium. Rather than having Sebastian and Mia tell each other and the audience how the film will end, Chazelle brilliantly shows it in a way that will completely subvert the audience’s environment.
Many critics, such as H. Perry Horton from Film School Rejects, Gemma Calandra from Redwood Bark, The National Post, and Jack’s Movie Reviews, have noted that the various sequences in this film switch between fantasy and reality. I agree. The film showcases realistic low points and fantastical high points in Sebastian and Mia’s relationship. The film both brilliantly illustrates life and imagination and the emotions that accompany these. We all long for a life that is real and full of dreams. Sometimes it is one or the other and sometimes it is both. However, most of the time, as in La La Land, life is bittersweet.
The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the authors. They do not proport to reflect the opinions or views of the Gordon Review, editorial staff, or its members.