La La Land is not a modern film, every inch of it from script to direction to performances has the bearing of a classic. La La Land’s siblings include Singing in the Rain, West Side Story, and Guys and Dolls. All of this is clear by the time the title appears on screen in large letters with quotations marks surrounding it, “Distributed by Summit Entertainment” slyly resting at the bottom, just like the way those classics presented themselves. Director Damien Chazelle even wanted a classic title card sequence just like in those films, but they did not ened up going that way. This is a classic movie musical, it just happens to be made in 2016.
I’m about to go on a brief tangent but I promise it will circle back to the point. Why do we make remakes? Okay, yes, to make money off of an established property, but I think when people first started with remakes they had a different reason. Sometimes you watch an older film and can’t help but think it is held back by the technology of its time. La La Land is that film that’s been made with modern technologies but classic storytelling sensibilities and intentions. Actors have always been strong, and long takes could always allow them to show their skill, but the Steadicam had not yet been invented so those scenes could not be as mobile as they are here. To create a magical realism in a performance space, one with a good amount of color, the film would have to build a set on an interior sound stage. One that looks so different from the real world that the film explains it away as a dream sequence:
Or just show you the set for what it is and let the actors take you the rest of the way:
But today a film can use color correction to create that color as well as good old fashioned lighting. A film can use sky replacement to put the look of a matte painting onto the real world.
And when the movie does choose to build an interior dream sequence set, its able to use this technology to look and move incredibly.
La La Land brings these classical film making techniques into the present, a setting they are rarely used in. The technology has changed, but so has society. The leads, Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, are more or less on equal footing whereas a classic would favor him over her. In fact, Emma Stone’s Mia has a stronger arc than Ryan’s Sebastian and makes use out of all of her considerable talent.
Although, real talk, Ryan Gosling has no business being as talented as he is. That boy is so pretty he could have picked up a superhero costume years ago and be cashing checks today, instead he works hard to have the skill to match his looks. Emma Stone, on the other hand, is masterfully avoiding being typecast in any one kind of role. She did a zombie comedy, a high school comedy, and a superhero movie, but also an oscar bait period piece, however you describe Birdman, and now a classical movie musical.
La La Land feels like a movie that shouldn’t exist, and yet one that we desperately need. It is at once instantly of the present but also timeless.It’s the kind of film that studios do not produce anymore, and one that clearly wouldn’t have been produced had Chazelle not made Whiplash as well. It is a film I walked out of without a single complaint. A beautiful and poignant film, and one that you’ll be hearing a lot about as the Oscars come around.
Which brings me back to my comment about remakes. Yes, clearly they’re a problem. But that initial idea of showing a classic what it could look like today is still an admirable one. Which is why we should support a studio trend of throwbacks and not traditional remakes. Movies that hold onto the emotion and style of a bygone time but use modern technology and sensibilities to help them achieve what they never could in their time.
PS, The soundtrack is also top notch. Give it a listen!