“I’m always gonna love you.” “I’m always gonna love you, too.”
It is an old Hollywood movie musical, filled with faith that a boy, a girl, a bench and a plum-coloured sunrise are still capable of wooking their magic. La La Land is the closest any movie has come in recent years to recreating the look and feel of classic Hollywood. Chazelle himself has said that La La Land is exceptionally personal to him, that he wanted “to fill the screen to the brim with things I personally love.” And it shows. Every corner of each widescreen frame drips with detail, callbacks to the days of cinema gone by, colorful flourishes, all captured by Linus Sandgren’s gauzy, otherworldly cinematography and showy, exuberant camera movements. At times, it threatens to be too much (Chazelle seems to know as much).
What the boy and girl needs is an opportunity. What they find is each other. Whether or not the latter of those things can make up for the absence of the former is the big question on La La Land’s mind, and the answer isn’t as glib as we might expect.
That mix of starry-eyed romanticism and melancholy pragmatism informs the entirety of La La Land, which is every bit as much a tribute to The Umbrellas of Cherbourg and The Young Girls of Rochefort as it is to Singin’ in the Rain and Swing Time. Something about that mix—the knowing, cynical, but secretly optimistic French mixed with the sunny, naïve, but secretly suspicious American—gives Chazelle’s tale a great deal of its power and elevates it beyond the mere tracing-paper exercise it threatens to be. The good and the bad, the uplifting and the dispiriting do not just exist alongside each other but often are the same thing viewed from different perspectives, such that one cannot escape the latter without also missing out on the former.
Whether La La Land’s ending plays as sad or happy comes down to how much faith we have in happy endings in the first place: but either way, it sends us from the cinema with tears in our eyes, a song in our heart, and a clear six inches of thin air between the soles of our shoes and the pavement.
But if La La Land has anything to say, it is that, time rushes forward, sweeping us along in separate currents that seldom intertwine when or where we would like. And when they finally intertwine again…sometimes the words not spoken have the most meaning of all. And as Ryan Gosling’s character Sebastian, in his championing of jazz music, explains that “it’s conflict, and it’s compromise… and it’s very very exciting”.