La La Land is a potent mix of Old Hollywood optimism with a dash of Jacques Demy melancholy.
Writer-director Damien Chazelle continues his examination of the pursuit of dreams, a theme present in his previous feature Whiplash, which treated dreams as an anxiety-ridden, self-destructive burden. Kristopher Tapley of Variety indicates La La Land has a different approach. He describes the new film's story as “very much about shrugging off pragmatism and stability and realizing it’s OK, even vital, to keep chasing your passion.” Tapley’s description certainly paints the tone of the film as a positive one.
Furthermore, while Whiplash indicates that success can destroy you, La La Land looks to suggest that success is vital to the identity. One of the songs is entitled "Someone in the Crowd", sung by Emma Stone. Tapley says that Stone's character “becomes introspective, wondering if she’ll be just another faceless dreamer in the crowd.” This description warns of a potential misstep, as the character appears to be defining her identity based on her level of success. Needless to say, that wouldn't be an inspiring approach. No matter how many times Hollywood may tell us otherwise, we aren’t defined solely by our dreams.
The balance between Old Hollywood optimism and Jacques Demy melancholy is seen throughout the picture, not only narratively but also in terms of the production itself. Chazelle explains, in the moviemaniacsDE recording of the Venice press conference that he tries “to take the old musical, but ground it in real life where things don’t always, exactly, work out.”
The old musical vibe can be seen in the unbroken takes, while the grounded nature of the production is represented by on-location shooting. For example, Tapley notes the opening number is “captured in a single 6-minute take.”
Roger Ebert educated us on the Old Hollywood style of cutting in his 1998 review of the Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers vehicle Swing Time:
“Godard told us in the 1960s that ‘the cinema is truth 24 times a second, and every cut is a lie.’ Astaire arrived at the same conclusion 35 years earlier. He believed every dance number should be filmed, as nearly as possible, in one unbroken take, always showing the full figures of the dancers from head to toes.”
The 6-minute take in question is "Another Day of Sun", filmed on the L.A. freeway. Chazelle asserts this sort of thing would have been done on a studio lot back in the day. "Another Day of Sun" promises to bring the spectacle to the proceedings.
It can only be hoped that the “grounded” aspects of the film will nullify my concerns of the potential misstep mentioned above. We’ll have to wait until December 16th to find out, when the film has its wide release in the United States.
According to Variety's interview with composer Justin Hurwitz, there are six original songs produced for the film. These include "Another Day of Sun", "Someone in the Crowd", "A Lovely Night" (inspired by Fred and Ginger Songs), "City of Stars", "Start A Fire", and "The Fools Who Dream."
Also to be noted is that Emma Stone took home the Venice Film Festival award for best actress. The award, historically, has been an indicator of success at the Oscars. Chazelle was nominated for the Golden Lion, but the prize went to Lav Diaz for The Woman Who Left.
Two trailers are available for your enjoyment below, featuring the songs "City of Stars" and "The Fools Who Dream."