TIFF 2016 Review | ‘La La Land’ Transforms Doubts Into Delights

Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone are artists on the verge of giving up on their dreams in Damien Chazelle's magical musical.

William Bibbianiby William Bibbiani

Damien Chazelle’s La La Land is a romantic ode to romantics everywhere, and if you’re the type of person who’d ask if we really needed another romantic ode to romantics everywhere, then you, my friend, are why we still need romantic odes to romantics everywhere.

It’s a cynical, pain in the ass world we live in. Dreams are dashed on a daily basis and still we muddle through, pricking up our enthusiasm to try again and again and again, until we settle for the second best dream we can muster, and when that falls through we finally give up and pay the rent any way we can because poverty sucks and you know it sucks and what’s the point anymore? Why bother?

La La Land is why we bother, if not the movie itself then at least the place it describes. Damien Chazelle’s film is set in a colorful musical rendition of Los Angeles where everybody stays giddy about whatever they can get their hands on. The movie opens with a splendiferous musical number set in the middle of bumper to bumper traffic, like “Everything is Awesome!!!” got surgically grafted onto “Everybody Hurts.” And if your career is going nowhere you can at least sing about the social scene, because hey, nobody moves to Los Angeles to give up, right?

Summit Entertainment

Summit Entertainment

La La Land is the story of a struggling jazz musician living in the past, played by Ryan Gosling, and a struggling actress dreaming of the future, played by Emma Stone. They fall in love, and maybe out of love, and sing and dance the whole time, and as sappy as La La Land gets – and it gets pretty sappy – there’s a definite sense that their escapism can’t last for long. Our heroes have to either get busy making their dreams a reality or get busy settling for realistic expectations, and if that’s not a soul-crushing prospect I don’t know what is, and apparently neither does Damien Chazelle.

These characters are defiantly nostalgic for a time they never personally knew, the jazz age and the golden age of Hollywood, but they’re intent to live there anyway. Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone play out Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers sort of routines that, were they actually played by dancers as talented as Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, might be showstoppers for the ages. But what they may lack in flair they make up for with enthusiasm. We like them, maybe we even love them, and we can probably relate to them, and we certainly want them to succeed. But maybe – since she’s not the best actress ever and he can’t seem to stick to a damned set list to save his life – they really won’t make it in La La Land, at least not in the long run.

Summit Entertainment

Summit Entertainment

For a film brimming with genuine joy there sure is a lot of melancholy I seem to have picked up in La La Land. Damien Chazelle’s dedication to one-take trickery and magical realism is earnestly sweet but it’s obviously out of place, and when his film finally ends – and oh, what an ending – it does so with a pitch perfect arrangement of success and failure, humor and sadness, colorful dreams and crushing facts. La La Land is nothing if not an enchanting composition, a magical musical indeed.

In Whiplash, writer/director Damien Chazelle defiantly asked whether any sacrifice was worth making in exchange for timeless art. It was the story of a young man who was willing to give up his sanity for the sake of greatness. Here, Chazelle places all his focus on characters whose motivations are no less honest, but far less obsessive. This is a film about doubts and how we try to overcome them, with a little help from our friends and lovers. It’s romantic about romance, because without romance there would be nothing to get romantic about.

And if we can’t get this romantic, La La Land romantic, sappy-daffy old school Hollywood romantic, then what’s the point anymore? Why bother? 

Thirteen Must-See Films at TIFF 2016:

Top Photo: Summit Entertainment

William Bibbiani (everyone calls him ‘Bibbs’) is Crave’s film content editor and critic. You can hear him every week on The B-Movies Podcast and Canceled Too Soon, and watch him on the weekly YouTube series Most CravedRapid Reviews and What the Flick. Follow his rantings on Twitter at @WilliamBibbiani.