BEIRUT: Here's to the fools who dream, words that hold weight in director Damien Chazelle's new release, La La Land, a film about two artists trying to balance their love for each other and their dreams.
I'd already become a fan of Chazelle's work after watching his debut film Whiplash, so the news that he would be helming a full on musical excited me and many others who impatiently waited for its release.
Upon its limited release in the United States, the film became an instant winner, gaining high praises from film festivals and critics. On Sunday, it won 7 Golden Globe awards including Best Picture Musical of Comedy and Best Director, breaking a new record at the award ceremony, making it a serious contender for this year's Oscar race.
Rushing to Vox Cinemas on the film's Lebanese release date, I fell into the comfortable VIP seats and waited for the lights to dim and the feature to begin.
The film opens with what is one of the most ambitious long-take musical sequences to ever appear on the silver screen: Bumper to bumper traffic on a highway in Los Angeles, brings together the irritated people to get out of their cars and dance their hearts out to the track Another Day of Sun.
Chazelle holds on the dancing, the singing, the sets, and the landscapes all elements of the classical Hollywood musical. He guides his audience by simply moving the camera around, even panning swiftly at times, and by doing so establishes the film's pace and visual style from the very beginning. Rarely does the pace of the film speed up, it places the audience in a dream-like state which allows the colors, the dancing, and the music to take over.
The audience is then introduced to the film's protagonists: two struggling artists, Sebastien, played by Ryan Gosling, a jazz pianist, and Mia, played by Emma Stone, an actress. As their lives unfold over the course of the seasons, complications begin to arise, and life starts to take over, bringing the hopeless romantics to an inevitable decision.
Chazelle structures his tale by using the seasons as the chapters of life.
At first glance one might think the film's narrative is quite simple, but that would be a mistake. The film is layered with subtext and indirect parallels to the state of the arts and of romance in the world that we live in today.
In one scene, Keith, played by John Legend, tells Sebastien, "How are you going to be a revolutionary if you're such a traditionalist?" Although in the film -- the characters are talking about jazz -- Chazelle is in fact criticizing the state of all art forms and what it means to be in love.
In the case of Sebastien and Mia, their love evolves as they begin to 'grow up' and return from their dreamlike state to the harshness of reality. Through Chazelle's perfectly structured narrative, he gives the audience a taste of honey, the dream of romance and music, only to slowly take it away.
Keith continues by saying, "You hold onto the past, but jazz is about the future," followed by a statement that hits home. He proclaims that the younger generations don't listen to "jazz" and to survive musicians have to please them, not the old folk who are going to eventually die.
This is another struggle that Chazelle tackles via his characters. Sebastien, to prove himself worthy of Mia, ultimately chooses the business over the art, sacrificing his dreams, while pushing Mia to choose the art over the business. This backfires when Mia suffers serious financial loss and is humiliated.
The narrative uses the Icarus emotional arc: it climbs to such a high point where Sebastien and Mia's love story becomes almost fairy-tale like, then it all comes crashing down.
This is no pure coincidence.
When Mia is finally granted a chance to audition for the role of a lifetime towards the end of the film, she sings a track titled "The Fools Who Dream". In it, she states, "Here's to the fools who dream, crazy as they may seem. Here's to the hearts that break, here's to the mess we make". Chazelle sums up his entire film in this one sentence, by ending it with heartbreak.
Composer Justin Hurwitz's score is pure nostalgic magic. Using character themes, and beautiful melodic tunes, he casts a spell on the audience and transports them to an era of classic Hollywood musicals. Hurwitz's music and director Damien Chazelle's vision work together to pay homage to Singin' in the Rain, Grease, and An American in Paris.
The film's dance numbers are choreographed by Mandy Moore, best known for her work on the reality competition So You Think You Can Dance. Moore does a fantastic job bringing the Broadway dance routines to the screen. Legendary actor Gene Kelly, who choreographed some of Hollywood award-winning musicals, would be proud.
It is clear how much effort and rehearsals the cast had to endure before production. The studio released a fantastic behind the scenes featurette on their official YouTube channel, and it's a fascinating watch.
Although the entire cast did a tremendous job, the true star of the film has to be the charismatic Ryan Gosling. Not only did his vocals mesmerize, but Gosling also plays the piano in the film. Ensuring that this is clear, director Damien Chazelle holds on Gosling in the majority of the scenes where the character of Sebastien is playing the instrument.
In a recent interview, Gosling stated that he had to practice three hours a day for three months in order to up his piano playing skills, a true dedicated actor.
It's been a long time since a film of caliber screened in cinemas. Gone are the days of classic Hollywood romances and stories that stayed with the audience as they exited the movie theater.
Therein lies the power of this picture.
La La Land reignites the flame of this slowly dying art, and calls back to lavish costumes, vibrant colors, memorable melodies, and heart-filled stories.
As you leave the cinema, you want to hum, sing, and even dance your way back home. But most of all, after watching this film, you want to dare to fall in love and dream.
Annahar Film Rating:
Alan Mehanna is an award-winning screenwriter and filmmaker. He graduated with an MFA in Screenwriting from Full Sail University in Orlando, Florida. He is also a film instructor at the American University of Science and Technology and Antonine University.
An-Nahar is not responsible for the comments that users post below. We kindly ask you to keep this space a clean and respectful forum for discussion.