Numerous times I have discussed on Celluloid Cinema the fear studios have making risky films that either are too ambitious for filmmakers to make or that do not have a wide enough audience to cover their financial investment. As media conglomerates continue to take over film studios and make profit their only goal, filmmakers are no longer able to make the passion projects that are near and dear to them. In 2010, this is the very issue Damien Chazelle faced when he originally came up with the story of La La Land, a musical that harkens back to the golden age of film musicals. After proving his worth with Whiplash, my favorite film of 2014, Chazelle was finally given the reigns to make his passion project. Fortunately this week I was able to see the film and hear Chazelle, Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, and the composer Justin Hurwitz speak about the film in person, and I must say the film is not only an achievement in filmmaking but also an achievement in storytelling.
As the film starts to be discussed in the media, one of the bigger stories going around is the large opening set piece that kicks off the film and took the closure of an LA freeway to pull off. While this jaw dropping opening rivals the numbers of Golden age Hollywood in terms of scope, La La Land continues amazing the audience with each subsequent number. While the physical scope of the opening number is not rivaled in later parts of the film, Chazelle is perfectly able create grandiose numbers that both cinema enthusiasts and casual viewers alike can marvel and appreciate for their intricacy and commitment to filmmaking. Not only does La La Land’s painstaking commitment to the genre of musicals put it in the same conversation of many great musicals but its overall devotion to cinematography, editing, and production design puts it in the same realm of some of Hollywood’s best pictures without regard to genre. As the “cheated” long take becomes more and more prominent in Hollywood with larger films such as Children of Men, Birdman, and Creed using this technique of blending different shots together to appear as one continuous take, La La Land adds itself to this list of films. These long takes not only serve to keep audiences immersed but they also highlight nearly every aspect that goes into filmmaking.
While I have spent so much time raving about the technical aspects of La La Land that is not to take away from the human side of it. Above all else, La La Land also presents a window into the deeper parts of love and sacrifice through its exquisite story. While the film will largely be talked about for its large-scale musical numbers, its real charm comes in its deeply personable story between the film’s two leads. The reason that the film’s story works and is able to hit the emotional places that it does is because of how well the two lead characters are characterized. In the film’s regular scenes Chazelle does an incredible job at making sure the audience understands why characters do what they do. Instead of exploring the likes and dislikes of characters and simplifying them, Chazelle provides well thought out dialogue that lets the audience in on the actual thought process of each character to make them three dimensional and unique. Because of the film’s characterizing scenes, the film’s conclusion is able to extend past the screen and make us ponder our own life which is what every film should strive to do.
If it is not apparent by now, I will outright state that La La Land is the best-made film of this year. From a technical standpoint, to a human standpoint, the film will astound you at every possible step. With Whiplash and La La Land, Chazelle is slowly solidifying his spot as one of the best working directors in Hollywood. The hoops that he had to jump through to get the film made are truly astounding and it will be interesting to see how the rest of the filmmaking community rewards him come award season. Currently the film is only available in a handful of theaters in Los Angeles but will be getting a wider release in the coming weeks, make sure you do not miss its theatrical run as it is truly a cinematic experience. Giving the film anything less than five reels would be a crime, therefore Celluloid Cinema awards La La Land 5 out of 5 Reels.
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