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A Different Look at ‘La La Land’

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Plato says “in metre and harmony and rhythm, [they] speak very well–such is the sweet influence which melody and rhythm by nature have… music puts upon colours”.

Plato argues against Art as not possessing pure knowledge or reason: ‘rational’ thought. What he was trying to argue for in this, was the creation of government, one based on reason. But in a time where reason appears to be advanced in some many ways, but still, socially, in current political climates still has so many problems, and a probably rightfully guilt-ridden conscience, a little bit of unreason; Art, this being the vehicle which we can use to get there, is necessary. It distracts, momentarily, and this feels nice.

Damien Chazelle’s La La Land is colourful, and colour does something. The film is fun and Dionysian. It’s about Art, art against reality – as a way out of it, into spirit. It goes back in a nostalgic sense, re-creating the pomp of an older Hollywood.

La La Land is about aesthetics and the human aesthetic, or subject, and that’s where its value lies; it’s about the Arts, lyric, and the so-called ‘creative-types’ version of the American. This dream negates the classic American dream: putting this as a side-note, for example in Stone’s character, Mia’s original boyfriend, who has the other American dream, feels conceited. There is in this film also Chazelle’s dream, a dream which he fully realizes. The film stands out and Chazelle’s creative force shines through. It’s not about politics, war, or a reflection of Donald Trump’s rise to power. It doesn’t ultimately have a ‘message’, not like that of the hopeful and valiant reformist. Art can do many things, but it’s nice to watch a film, and the playing out of a dreamy, but gritty human narrative, which is in a world where we don’t need to, for that temporal moment of film, look at politics and war. We have enough of that being in a time of civilizations in angst.

La La Land is about human passion, loving. It’s about acting, dancing, it embraces music and the stage, and has both great music and acting, Stone’s audition scene stands out. It is world that helps distract us from the stark, quite guilt-ridden reality. La La Land does have hope, and it has happiness: and a kind of a happy tear-jerking ending. It is a bittersweet ending where Mia and Sebastian are truly romantically happy only in destiny.

We of course need to see reminders of how not to act: films like Moonlight help teach us, let us in, or how Fences show us snapshots of worlds we should take as examples, examples of what to work against, and what never to do again. 12 Years a Slave, Schindler’s List: two previous, also fully deserving, Academy Award winners, are visual reminders. These films created memories of real memories to re-live wrongs, so we can remember not to do them again. Les Misérables, another Oscar winner, lets us indulge in emotion and witness intense despair, which however much we try to negate it, guides us along. Art does have a rational purpose for these reasons. It tells us, or aids in learning to understand each-other, and ourselves better.

La La Land is positive and lets us escape. It embodies art and it sings to us. Film has the potential to create utopian visions, where reality can be controlled and appearance chosen. Sometimes, this is done with layered purposes, and rightfully and necessarily so, and has the potential to offer much needed reflection. La La Land choses a utopian vision, where reality and appearance are so cleverly mixed. La La Land is about Hollywood, which is the apparent pinnacle, the Utopian in film and whose credit is holy: part of an establishment against ‘the establishment’, but still so very involved with it. Chazelle does something innovative, but artistically retrospective. La La Land is brilliant: it is aesthetic in its kitsch, meta-involved, but self-consciously aware, artistically fantastic way.

The tension of reality and dreaming is evident from the beginning, the stories painfully, probably true. The honking of car-horns that snap Mia from her early reveries, and close two of the opening scenes, and appear again near the extravagant “Big Finish”, are one of many subtle little motifs that appear throughout. La La Land conflicts reality versus dreaming and unreality. We are introduced to Mia with a coffee-stained shirt underneath musical glad-rags – Mia is a barista who is also dreaming, she is a budding actor. Ryan Gosling plays Christmas ditties as a struggling Jazz musician, but flourishes, taking an artistic journey. Reality becomes darker later, the surprise dinner scene, the turning point, is tense, but accurate. It’s cleverly symbolic as the bright colours and lighting dim. The needle rests on the spinning vinyl, yet no record plays, a fire alarm sounds. Dream fades, but so does reality in little ways, but the discolouration of reality isn’t quite so obvious, but La La Land tackles this well. It has a subtle focus on emotion and themes around what it feels like to have dreams, but lose dreams too, or have dreams which slip away: our dreams, or ambition are how humans measure themselves. La La Land portrays human emotion well, hinging on Gosling and Stone who both act honestly, and very well.

It’s produced beautifully, shot perfectly and styled immaculately: a perfect Utopia, in its own way. The acting, the human element, the awkward non-verbal sense of human emotion. It’s real, but so not-real – which again feels quite nice. It has a great score, 100% Oscar worthy and ‘City of Stars’ is truly beautiful. It has a decent, if slightly unabashed, perhaps comfortable narrative. It is however sophisticatedly written, with some remarkable dialogue. The style however doesn’t play it comfortably, but the film does it well – a sophisticated musical, but one which can point fun at itself, self-reflectively. It’s timelessly modern, “cultured” and figures modern banality alongside playful imagination, humorously. It mocks its own forms and conventions, and almost strays into pastiche, but is aware of this. It’s subtle in so many ways and curiously intelligent, and the play with temporality is satisfying, and somewhat whole. It has good relationships and good actors and Gosling and Stone have a fantastic, very human bond.

 4.5/5 *

*… only because nothing in Hollywood, or indeed life, is ever perfect. But it’s nice to imagine that it is. A worthy Academy Award winner.

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