La La Land out on Blu-ray
From its opening scene on an LA freeway, where drivers stalled in traffic leap from their cars in song and dance, La La Land veers from the routine annoyances of everyday life into a carefully cultivated imaginative world filmed in colors beyond the richness of everyday experience. It’s a movie about dreams set in Los Angeles, a city where dreams have been manufactured for the past century.
Damien Chazelle won the Best Director Oscar for La La Land, which revisits the theme of his breakout film, Whiplash, in exploring the aspirations of creative young people bumping into reality’s hard edges. Emma Stone won the Best Actress Oscar and Ryan Gosling was nominated for Best Actor for their roles as the star-crossed lovers whose first encounter in that traffic snarl was anything but auspicious.
Despite their smartphones, both are living in the golden nostalgia of an imagined past as they pursue their dreams in the colder world of now. She wants to be an actress and lives with lobby posters of Burt Lancaster and Ava Gardner. He wants to be a jazz pianist and lives with vinyl LPs and the sound of Thelonious Monk.
La La Land’s magic is felt when the film captures the towering elation of romantic love, which is to ordinary experience as Cinemascope is to a selfie, as well its recreation of the magical settings of the old musicals Chazelle obviously loves. The lamp lit streets Stone and Gosling walk became the stage for a Gene Kelly-Debby Reynolds routine; the neon is gorgeous; the view of the city at dusk from the Hollywood Hills is breathtaking. And yes, the Oscar-winning original songs by Justin Hurwitz are good, better than most of what is heard on Broadway these days.
Like many of the great movies evoked by the film, La La Land is best appreciated on a big theater screen but the experience is diminished, not erased, on home video.