You know La La Land is amazing, but what’s so great about it specifically? Come with me as we cover the movie’s greatest moments in depth, in my La La Land spoiler review.
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If you want to avoid all spoilers, you can check out my original spoiler-free review here.
La La Land is all about Damien Chazelle confidently and passionately delivering a movie musical that audiences have been starved of for decades, and nothing sums that up better than the very first scene in the film.
After the CinemaScope opening that made all us film nerds giddy, Chazelle wastes no time getting into the spirit of a classic movie musical. The opening scene on the highway bridge traffic jam, a vibrant and joyful show tune to get you in the mood for the next two hours, is such a spectacular way to open a movie.
Filmed in a couple of one-shot segments, the Hollywood hopefuls sing the delightful ‘Another Day Of Sun’ with glee and passion. That onscreen energy builds and builds throughout the song, and as we approach the crescendo, Chazelle pulls off a triumphant and breathtaking crane shot that soars over the LA skyline, brilliantly introducing us to La La Land.
At its core, La La Land’s story is nothing particularly original. The story of American dreamers travelling to the magical land where their ambitions can be realised, it has the making of pure cheese.
And yet, we’ve never seen any film pull off that story so spectacularly. The main story beats are definitely predictable, but thanks to Chazelle’s exceptional screenplay, that shows us the best and brightest in these dreamers, it’s a joy to watch and will them on.
The romance, too, is pretty foreseeable. The lows in what is such a blissful relationship do come as expected, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less enjoyable. Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling are perfect together throughout the film, and surrounded by the vibrant and passionate production that is La La Land, it’s so easy to get completely wrapped up in their story.
Of course, the film’s ending is something that we never saw in old Hollywood musicals. Painfully bittersweet but beautifully elegant, Chazelle shows just how brilliant his original writing talents are, and making for one of the most memorable movie endings you’ll ever know.
One of the great pitfalls of recent attempts to revive the movie musical has been their often dour and serious atmospheres. However, the musical genre really thrives when it’s all about having fun, and that can’t be done without a good sense of humour.
Thankfully, La La Land knows exactly that, and makes you laugh time and time again with a combination of sweet, old Hollywood-style humour, and a lot of hilarious laugh-out-loud moments. The sparring relationship between Mia and Seb in the early stages is hugely entertaining (particularly in that band scene shown above), whilst the light-hearted atmosphere Chazelle gives the film is key to its charm.
Yes, the film is a beautiful and passionate love letter to the movie musical, but I was so glad to see Chazelle not take it all too seriously. The humour is excellent throughout, and thanks to its prevalence early on, it’s another part of the film that helps to get you in the happy mood you need to truly enjoy the fantastically funny side of La La Land.
That said, it’s not all unicorns and rainbows when it comes to paying tribute to Hollywood, because there’s a heap of brilliant satire in this film as well.
It’s often still a positive look at the many quirky faults of Tinseltown, ranging from the people’s obsession with the Toyota Prius to the surreal notion of walking through living film sets on your way home from work, there’s so much that the film has to say about the land of dreams and movie stars.
And even when there’s a little bit of criticism going on, it’s still all done in good humour. The image of Emma Stone walking past a row of redheads in white shirts after her audition was so brilliant, whilst her range of laughable and ridiculous audition reels is a wonderful nod to the madness of the movie studio system.
One of the reasons that La La Land will thrill film buffs across the world is because it’s absolutely jam-packed with movie references.
As much as he shows his passion for jazz, Damien Chazelle really demonstrates his love for cinema with La La Land. Not just by setting it amongst the world of glamour and movie stars, but by taking all sorts of tropes from classic Hollywood cinema and sprinkling them across his own movie.
So, whilst there’s all the direct references to the likes of Bringing Up Baby, Notorious, Rebel Without A Cause and the window in Casablanca, what’s likely to excite most film fans is the attention to detail given in emulating some of cinema’s most beloved classics.
The Lovely Night Dance sequence, for example, is the closest we’ve ever seen to a proper classic movie musical, with Chazelle shooting Stone and Gosling’s song and dance duet in one take, against a flat pane just like they always used to do. The film’s ending is also a nod to the end of Casablanca, and the Epilogue is filled to the brim with even more references.
The film’s bright colours and costumes are as dazzling as any Stanley Donen musical, and the old Rialto theatre is a delightfully nostalgic throwback to the moviegoing experience of the 1940s and 50s. In short, if you love classic Hollywood, you’ll be head over heels with La La Land.
Whiplash deservedly took the Oscar for Best Editing back in 2014, courtesy of Tom Cross. In La La Land, Cross returns with exceptional editing techniques that give the film some thrillingly original sequences and emotions.
Most noticeable in the first and final acts, where we watch Mia and Seb’s lives intertwine around the moment where she sees him on the piano, the film ingeniously plays with space and time on numerous occasions. Ripping the rug from under your feet in the first act on two occasions, as we cut back to the highway and the beginning of Seb’s story, and as Mia approaches Seb for the kiss that we all expected, these are some of the most emotionally powerful examples of Cross’ incredible editing.
However, just like Whiplash, the editing gives La La Land a fantastically strong pace. It’s not a breathless thriller, but particularly in the musical sequences, the combination of quick cuts and Chazelle’s dazzling long takes gives the songs an absolutely thrilling energy.
The obvious thing to say at this point would be that the film is draped in beautiful neon. So that’s exactly what I’ll do.
It may look like a cliché (which Chazelle even plays on at one point), but the colourful lighting wonderfully complements everything about this film as a visual experience. On the one hand, it serves brilliantly to reinforce the dreamlike aura of Hollywood, as the characters move through a rainbow of colours at night, but the effect is even stronger than that.
The neon lighting at some of the film’s key moments is so strong that its emotional effect cannot be overlooked. Take the red glow behind Mia as she first hears Seb’s music outside the restaurant. It really accentuates the emotional importance of the scene and the music at that moment, something that plays a huge role at the film’s end. And where red is used to show romantic passion, the green that bathes the room as the couple engage in a heartbreaking argument is so effective in increasing the emotion of that scene.
Of course, it’s not all about neon. The bright, old-timey street lamps that dot the streets of Los Angeles are wonderfully enchanting, whilst the film’s darkest moments are matched accordingly with some very harsh lighting that really bring you down to feel the despair that Mia and Seb do at their toughest hour.
As I’ve said a few times now, La La Land is one of the most vibrant and colourful movies you’ll ever see, and the costumes are just as much a part of that as anything else.
Accordingly inspired by The Umbrellas Of Cherbourg, but just as eye-popping as so many classic movie musicals, the use of the brightest colours of the rainbow plays such a big part in making the film as dazzling as it is. The opening scene alone is a sea of primary colours, and the outfits Mia wears throughout the film, almost always single-colour shirts and dresses, are absolutely wonderful to look at.
Costume designer Mary Zophres deserves huge credit for making it work, because La La Land’s wonderful costumes make every second pop with vibrancy, the perfect recipe to put a smile on your face.
I was once one of the people who despised the prospect of a movie musical. And yet, putting La La Land as one of my all-time favourites shows that it’s a film that can bring joy to absolutely anyone.
Chazelle’s passion for music comes through just as strongly as his love for cinema here, but it’s composer Justin Hurwitz who we’ve got to be looking to praise as well, for composing both a beautiful original score, and a handful of hugely entertaining original songs.
Although often focusing on jazz, the film’s soundtrack is arguably the most varied you’ve ever heard. Ranging from good old show tunes to emotional ballads and even modern pop, there’s something for everyone here.
And what’s even more amazing about the music in La La Land is that it really tells a story. It’s not just singing for singing’s sake, but an integral part of the movie’s heart and plot, something that so few musicals have ever managed to achieve. And that’s why the music is so memorable. I’ve been listening to the soundtrack on repeat in the few days since I first watched the film, and whilst it works just as well alone, it’s so easy to picture the moment of the film that the characters break into song, thanks to Chazelle’s direction and Hurwitz’s brilliantly original compositions.
The Fools Who Dream
And whilst there are a good six or seven songs that I adore from La La Land, I feel that there’s one that needs a little bit more recognition.
City Of Stars is receiving all the plaudits from the big awards shows, Mia & Sebastian’s Theme is a beautiful theme that can be adapted to any part of the movie’s emotional range, and the likes of Another Day Of Sun and Someone In The Crowd are continuing to be enjoyed by everyone as massively entertaining show tunes.
But Audition (The Fools Who Dream), sung by Emma Stone as Mia takes a leap with her biggest audition ever, the one that sets her on the road to fame, seems to be being overlooked. Apart from being utterly beautiful to listen to, and performed within such a well-directed and acted sequence, it’s the song that I feel sums up the entire emotional core of La La Land.
As we’ve discussed, whilst this is a delightful and uplifting film, there are moments of sadness and bittersweet emotion. In this song, we see Mia transform from a nervous and frustrated dreamer to a completely new person, as she belts out a powerfully emotional tribute to all those who have been stuck in the same situation as her.
It’s a real turning point in the story, and works absolutely perfectly. Confidently and wonderfully sung by Emma Stone, The Fools Who Dream might just be the film’s most underrated and spectacular sequence.
Alternate Reality Epilogue
On the whole, there are so many moments that make La La Land a cinematic and musical masterpiece, but the one thing that makes it really stand out is its epilogue.
Five years after the end of their romance, Mia and Seb go their separate ways, managing to achieve their dreams, albeit not together. That’s the core of what is one of the most thrillingly original and beautiful sequences in cinema history.
An instrumental epilogue is something you’ll find often is classic Hollywood musicals, but they’re never all that interesting to watch. There’s always some good dancing and pretty settings, but they always feel a little tacked on to the end, not offering any story development that we haven’t already had.
La La Land, on the other hand, uses its instrumental epilogue not just to pay tribute to those classic musicals, but to tell us an entirely new story in just 7 minutes. The moment Seb sees Mia with her new husband, and the moment Mia sees Seb’s new club, are actually pretty heartbreaking. Yes, they’ve achieved their dreams, but there was always something about the two that made you want to see them do that together.
The epilogue tells the story in the way we want it to end, as Mia and Seb travel to Paris together to work on her film, whilst he gets involved with the jazz scene there, and ends up with the two marrying, having a child, and then going on a night out to a jazz club together.
And just when it all feels so right, Chazelle tears your heart out by revealing that it was all a fantasy, ending the film on the painful yet beautifully bittersweet notion that the two will never be living their dreams together. It’s an exceptionally original and memorable finale to the film, complete with even more dazzling settings, costumes and music than before, but most importantly, an emotional rollercoaster to cap off two hours of utter cinematic perfection.
A Future Classic?
Without a doubt. In fact, La La Land seems to have hit all-time classic status within the first days of its release, but it’s entirely deserved.
When we look back on the 2010s in the future, superhero franchises, animated movies and some excellent dramas will all be remembered, but if there’s one film that will stand out completely alone, it’ll be the one that took a bygone genre of cinema and made it work better than had ever been done before.