This movie might very well be the first film that can be described as a modern musical.
La La Land is a film by director Damien Chazelle (Whiplash), starring Emma Stone as Mia Dolan, an aspiring actress and Ryan Gosling as Sebastian Wilder, an aspiring jazz musician, who meet and fall in love in Los Angeles. To say anything more would ruin the experience. All I can say is that it is, unabashedly, a musical.
Like the jazz music that Ryan Gosling’s character loves so much, the movie musical is a dying art. The golden age of the movie musical came and went back in the 50s and 60s, and the only musicals that come out nowadays are musicals that were made famous on the stage first, like Rent and Les Miserables. While these musicals are great in their own respects, these musicals made for the stage should be listed separate from musicals made specifically for film, something that hasn’t been made in nearly fourty years.
La La Land is a movie musical that both follows typical musical tropes but does not feel beholden to them. Like the vaudeville that movie musicals were taken from, the songs and dance numbers act more as expression of the emotions of the characters than an advancement of the story. The first dance number between Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling serves more to illustrate that though they keep saying they don’t like each other, there is an undeniable attraction between them that can only be described through dance.
That said, La La Land also breaks certain tropes with the musical by also portraying a relationship that has it’s own ups and downs. Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling’s characters both have dreams that they work hard to achieve, but the harder they work, the more they begin to realize that they may have to compromise on those dreams as the realities of world sets in. Wanting to be an actress is a good dream, but what happens when you are rejected over and over again? Wanting to open your own night club is all well and good, but until you get there, how do you pay for food and rent? These are all questions this couple finds itself asking as life continues onward and it is questions that can only be asked by this generation.
La La Land is a rare film that manages to both look backwards and forwards at the same time. A touching love letter to a previously thought dead genre, it manages to bring this genre back to the world with renewed vigor. In a generation learning that their dreams may not come true no matter how hard you work for it, this film proves that you should never stop dreaming.