As it draws from the aesthetics of old MGM musicals and of the modern city life, La La Land, directed by Damien Chazelle (Whiplash), is an exquisite product of postmodernism that will make you feel nostalgic for classical Hollywood musicals. The story about a jazz pianist (Ryan Gosling) falling for an aspiring actress (Emma Stone) in Los Angeles fits in well with themes of successful musicals of the past as it has a story of love involved in some kind of artistic practice. The movie creates its meaning by starting with this classic formula, but it revolutionizes the genre as it develops by following in the footsteps of the blue French musical, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, in terms of tonal shift. La La Land has several fun and joyful moments as the story builds up in a world of idealized romantic relationships, but it is also very realistic in the way that, as the story develops past the idealized, the protagonists’ relationship gets complicated and things do not always go the way they were planned. Very characteristic of postmodernists, Chazelle’s musical finds its meaning in nostalgia as it is trapped in the complications and turbulences of modern life. It uses the charms and beauty of the past to give new life to the gloomy present.

The movie beautifully reminisces on the charms of classical musicals; however, there is no such thing as a perfect movie. Although Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling are captivating in their struggles as dreamers and tremendously attractive on-screen chemistry, they are not the most musically talented actors. Gosling did an incredible job as a piano player, especially given the fact that he did not know how to play before shooting the movie, and Stone sings beautifully live, but their vocal and dancing skills are not on par with those of classical Hollywood musical stars. Several times I wanted them to sing their hearts out and hit a wide range of notes! I wanted them to astonish me by tap dancing like Gene Kelly did in long takes! Instead, we mostly get monotone songs full of aspirated vocals and well-executed but not so complex choreography from the protagonists. There is no doubt that the music is beautiful and captivating—I must admit that I got goosebumps every time Ryan Gosling started singing the song “City of Stars”—but I expected m5ore musical grandiosity, since the movie is an homage to the classical MGM musicals.

That aside, the movie has an astonishing visual design that makes the gray Los Angeles come to life in color. Some shots look so beautiful that the setting looks fake, or staged. It is well-composed and extremely aesthetically pleasing. It helps to bring the musical to life and makes Los Angeles look beautiful: the city becomes a part of the story almost as a character of its own. It is characteristic of the musical genre to have theatrical compositions, and La La Land revolutionized this convention by transporting it to the contemporary world and making it look beautiful. It is so common to see the city portrayed in a dark or lifeless way that it is refreshing and hopeful to see the modern city look so beautiful on the big screen. La La Land is a movie of its time—with modern cars, language, and smartphones—but it elevates the reality of modernity by rendering it with such beauty and charm present in musicals of the past. The movie has just the right amount of classic beauty in the haircuts and costumes and the right type of soft music to make postmodernity timeless. It does not force anything; it just takes you for a smooth, romantic, and beautiful ride through Los Angeles.

The big opening musical number in the famously traffic jammed Los Angeles highway works well to set the tone for the movie to be a love letter to the City of Angels. It turns the stressful concrete colored urban space into a fun one with an uplifting song, huge ensemble, choreography on top of cars, and lots of colors. It takes the mundane and makes it fun and beautiful.

There is so much going on in a single picture that it is impossible for a movie to be perfect. Movies should be measured by their effect on people, and in that sense, La La Land is a masterpiece. It is not perfect, but it drives the audience with the chemistry between its stars; it engages with the beauty of its images and the romance in the story and music. The nostalgia in the movie is so emotionally powerful that it overshadows the defects. Although it confronts the audience by starting with an ideal, beautiful romance and moving to a more realistic world, La La Land touches on the fears, hopes, and dreams of all modern human beings. It is a timeless love letter to the modern world that could be the comeback of star-driven, large-scale Hollywood musicals to the silver screen that we have all been waiting for.

The movie beautifully reminisces on the charms of classical musicals; however, there is no such thing as a perfect movie. Although Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling are captivating in their struggles as dreamers and tremendously attractive on-screen chemistry, they are not the most musically talented actors. Gosling did an incredible job as a piano player, especially given the fact that he did not know how to play before shooting the movie, and Stone sings beautifully live, but their vocal and dancing skills are not on par with those of classical Hollywood musical stars. Several times I wanted them to sing their hearts out and hit a wide range of notes! I wanted them to astonish me by tap dancing like Gene Kelly did in long takes! Instead, we mostly get monotone songs full of aspirated vocals and well-executed but not so complex choreography from the protagonists. There is no doubt that the music is beautiful and captivating—I must admit that I got goosebumps every time Ryan Gosling started singing the song “City of Stars”—but I expected m5ore musical grandiosity, since the movie is an homage to the classical MGM musicals.

That aside, the movie has an astonishing visual design that makes the gray Los Angeles come to life in color. Some shots look so beautiful that the setting looks fake, or staged. It is well-composed and extremely aesthetically pleasing. It helps to bring the musical to life and makes Los Angeles look beautiful: the city becomes a part of the story almost as a character of its own. It is characteristic of the musical genre to have theatrical compositions, and La La Land revolutionized this convention by transporting it to the contemporary world and making it look beautiful. It is so common to see the city portrayed in a dark or lifeless way that it is refreshing and hopeful to see the modern city look so beautiful on the big screen. La La Land is a movie of its time—with modern cars, language, and smartphones—but it elevates the reality of modernity by rendering it with such beauty and charm present in musicals of the past. The movie has just the right amount of classic beauty in the haircuts and costumes and the right type of soft music to make postmodernity timeless. It does not force anything; it just takes you for a smooth, romantic, and beautiful ride through Los Angeles.

The big opening musical number in the famously traffic jammed Los Angeles highway works well to set the tone for the movie to be a love letter to the City of Angels. It turns the stressful concrete colored urban space into a fun one with an uplifting song, huge ensemble, choreography on top of cars, and lots of colors. It takes the mundane and makes it fun and beautiful.

There is so much going on in a single picture that it is impossible for a movie to be perfect. Movies should be measured by their effect on people, and in that sense, La La Land is a masterpiece. It is not perfect, but it drives the audience with the chemistry between its stars; it engages with the beauty of its images and the romance in the story and music. The nostalgia in the movie is so emotionally powerful that it overshadows the defects. Although it confronts the audience by starting with an ideal, beautiful romance and moving to a more realistic world, La La Land touches on the fears, hopes, and dreams of all modern human beings. It is a timeless love letter to the modern world that could be the comeback of star-driven, large-scale Hollywood musicals to the silver screen that we have all been waiting for.

Raphael Rosalen

Raphael Rosalen

Raphael Rosalen is a Cinema and Media Studies undergraduate student at the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts, where he also serves as the president of the Undergraduate Student Council, and a multimedia artist. Interested in celebrity and popular culture and feminism theory, Raphael recently won an award for a research paper on gender equality in Hollywood in 2016. Raphael is also interested in technology and how it can augment audiovisual content. He is currently working towards becoming a cinema and media scholar, creating a visual EP emphasizing new technology in music and filmmaking, and writing for a new media critique project. Some of his favorite movies are Sunset Boulevard, Blue Jasmine, and The Bling Ring.

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