The tradition of the musical is something inherently American in its creation and style. The extravagance of the sets and costumes, the over-the-top in-your-face musical numbers, and more often than not the feel-good ending. These shows make you leave the theater singing the songs with hope in your heart. La La Land does all these things hitting the high points of a long tradition classic musicals, while still packing the emotional punch of a more “serious” film.
Our star crossed lovers Mia, played by Emma Stone, and Sebastian, played by Ryan Gosling—two actors who have played love interests more than a few times—are both young, poor, and trying to make their dreams come true in the big Hollywood world. Their chemistry is the playful but genuine kind that make you think of the cute old couple on the bus.
Both Gosling and Stone play their parts beautifully and their frequency in playing opposite one another harkens back to the old Hollywood couples, like Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn or Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Putting even more of that tradition flair to the film.
However, when you compare the performances of those classic films like Top Hat to the dance numbers in La La Land, Stone and Gosling are good but you can’t hold a candle the work of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Stone’s experience acting in the Broadway musical Cabaret makes her performance as a musical actress stronger, giving her a slight upper hand in the film.
The story is what really makes the musical. Two artists trying hard to accomplish their dreams, feeling constantly on the brink of failure. Who find solace in another person who understands and supports them those dreams. But real life gets in the way, you make choices and dreams get abandoned. Our star crossed lovers attain their dreams, but end up sacrificing their great love, for their good dreams.
It is a good thing that this film rightly does not try to be old Hollywood musicals, while it still pays tribute to the films that came before it, because then it would not be nearly as good as its own version and a new perspective on the classics.
The classic musicals have already been made and mastered. And though on first look La La Land appears as if it is trying to cookie cutter create that classic formula. The storytelling mix of the classic romantic musical, with the realism of our more modern storytelling, is what makes this story great. The rollercoaster of emotions that the audience is taken on is a truly thrilling experience.
What La La Land did with it’s ending made me feel a literal pain in my side, because of that realism that so strongly, yet effortlessly, contrasts with the camp of a feel good musical. This musical is unique in that ability to combine the two storytelling styles. What it is able to do with that is make the very strong point of “Are we sacrificing the great for the good?”