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La La Land (2016) Review

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La La Land (2016) Review

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The Forgotten Land of La La

I hate musicals.

There – I said it.

They tend to be rather jumpy, and get everyone excited and happy and full of legitimately wasteful energy. Did I also mention that they include people who randomly break out into choreographed dance sequences that can be utterly devoid of meaning? And for people like me, who have new year resolutions like “you should attempt to smile at least once this year” – musicals can get on my nerves faster than you can say “La”.

So, when I heard the director of the super-awesomely-brilliant “Whiplash” was making a musical, which was also a love story, which had a trailer making it look more cliché than a Harambe meme – naturally I was the polar opposite of thrilled. But then the critics passed their verdicts, and when I heard Mr. (poker-face) Ryan Gosling was in it, my curiosity got the better of me, and exactly 9 and three-fourths of a second later – I was staring at an IMAX screen, feeling pukish after the dissaparation.

Now I was expecting a good movie – even an above average one going by the reviews.

But BLOWN AWAY? Nah.

That part came as a surprise. Perhaps even the biggest one of 2016, and assuming you haven’t been living under a rock, you know that’s a pretty big thing for me to be saying.

Let’s put it this way – La La Land, is perhaps one of the finest depictions of the word “romance” itself. And I don’t mean “Boy loves Girl but the father in law is the devil reincarnate – so they run away to live happily ever after” kind of romance. But rather the romantic pursuit of life itself. The romance of living a dream – your dream. The idealistic one – the forgotten one. The one that treads so close to impracticality, the world has all but given up on it. Like errr… my dream of waking up on time. Or not laughing at a swaying toddler when he trips and falls.

La La Land is about the stragglers – the people left behind, clinging to the past or a hopeful future, lost to the present, with a look of pure longing.

It’s about a Los Angeles that once was – an ode to an age of wonder and love for the art of Music and Cinema, and all that we hold dear to our intrinsic need to imagine beautiful things. It is about adding to the notches of the greats – believing in statistical improbabilities – and having to make the ultimate sacrifice to get there.

I began with a curiosity which soon transformed into a thunderous applause – standing on the seat and staring at people around me to see if they got it – only to be yanked down again by my unrealistic expectations for the millionth time.

And ironically like the movie, it’s beautifully sad how people liked it, but didn’t love it.

And it’s frustrating when you’re doing mental backflips as a metaphorical form of applause for the brilliance you’ve just witnessed (because clapping is so 2015), and the only god damn thing the person next to you noticed was – in their words – “Oh my gawd, did you see how HOT RYAN WAS?!!!” (It is imperative you read that last line out loud in an accent to fully immerse yourself in that torturous experience.)

After which I froze, mid backflip, fell on my head, broke my neck and just died. Right there, right then – with an expression of pure incredulousness, asking – “Wait, did you not notice significance of the reds and the blues – and how the entire movie is placed kind of between those 2 colours? Shot after shot of that beautiful interplay? Or the dimming of the lights in the wishful sequences? And the pace of the music – continuously echoing the sentiment on screen, often harmonious with the dialogue? Or the raw, unfettered passion on display? Or the – ”

(That’s when I died. Again. I think for the Trazillionth time.)

Because the movie was subtle yet in your face at the same time – classy and cliché in the perfect balance – and if you missed any of it – the disservice you would be doing to cinema as whole would be a bigger crime than that of your murder, of which I am guilty as charged.

And what’s more is that there’s something in it for everyone.

Maybe you like dancing – well how about a dance in the middle of a highway – a single take shot – during peak hour traffic, with exaggeratedly joyous people synchronizing on the roofs of cars? No? – well then maybe you like stage plays. How about 2 dancers lifting off from the floor in dreamy sequences playing to the rhythm of swinging pendulums in empty observatories? Doesn’t quite cut it for you yet? Then perhaps you’re a visually challenged individual, and are only moved by the intricacies of an audible score? Then to your rescue shall arrive the immaculately skilled Justin Hurwitz, of legendary Whiplash fame, dolling out hit after hit of beautiful melodies – melancholic and happy in equal part.

If there’s one thing I can guarantee it’s this. You cannot escape the incessantly hypnotic humming of the music long after you’re done with it – and in the midst of this worldly chaos we like to pretend is order, it will bring you calm, in sad sort of happy way.

Then there are the characters.

Emma Stone supersedes all barriers of expectations in a career best performance so explosively good, I’m going to go out on a limb here and say she’s going to win the Oscar.

Period.

If she doesn’t, it’s probably because the Jury is sour after a pretty lousy year, and is hell bent on making it – “sour-er”. It is truly remarkable how you can feel the pain in her face almost killing you every single time she’s carelessly dismissed during an audition she worked so hard to get. Perhaps it is because you are meant to view her as the judge. And while you are led to believe her acting and effort is pure, it seems as though the director consciously blames us for letting it all slide. Kind of like a jab at society and blaming us for that crime. Unnoticed and unappreciated – in a world too result oriented to dwell on effort and potential.

And if Emma Stone was the pinnacle of painful emotion – Ryan Gosling counters that with a masterfully hidden sadness and an expression of longing and loss.

His trademark stoic straight faced acting fits almost as perfectly as a rickshaw’s front wheel in suburban traffic. And you can truly see Mr Gosling’s work in the intentional momentary lapses in the worldly façade of the character – the real emotion in between the frustrated twitches and the smiles devoid of empathy.

And the best part about this movie is that Damien Chazelle has now proved that he intends on being consistently brilliant with his endeavours. It might not be considered better than his previous work, Whiplash, as much as it will be thought of as a different kind of genius altogether. Incomparable – and yet unmistakably remarkable in equal measure. Or maybe it’s the little-known fact that this man also happens to be the screenplay writer of another uniquely good movie I love – “10 Cloverfield Lane”. And yet, his past works all have one very clear thread in common – a diehard appreciation for good music. And what better way to take that passion forward than to make a musical.

They say Los Angeles gets its acronym from the first two letters of its name – “L.A”. Few people know that the term “La La Land” is an extension of that name.

A term used to describe the fanciful and dreamlike state of a place that exists only in our imagination. You could be locked in cell, and still be living free in “La La Land”. I even overheard someone saying Nelson Mandela lived in it as well. True Story.

Thing is – if you’re going to imagine a world in your head – you have the monumental responsibility of re-creating a dream many have already created in their heads.

And that, I was certain, was an unattainable dream.  

This one time though – just this one time –

… I couldn’t have been more wrong.

 

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