LA LA LAND is the story, in musical form, of Mia (Emma Stone), an aspiring actress, and Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) who wants to own a jazz club. While there’s a romance between the two, it’s a deeper story about how goals and ambitions change over time and how certain decisions can alter the course of your life.
What’s key in this movie is that while you may have multiple paths in life and the course of things may change, it doesn’t mean the outcome is worse—it’s just different. There’s a tendency for movies that show two different paths to make one the ideal but LA LA LAND doesn’t make that mistake. It shows that happiness doesn’t mean forgetting all that has come before and that our history is what makes us who we are today.
LA LA LAND contrasts a vibrant, technicolor color palette with a more muted one to show the evolution of the characters and their story. At the beginning, the characters all wear bright colors which seem to jump off the screen. It feels very larger-than-life and passionate, since passion is at the beginning of any relationship. As Mia and Sebastian’s relationship and lives evolve, the colors shift into browns and more muted tones. A great example of the shift that you can watch for is the color of Mia’s bag. At the beginning notice how she carries a bright, reddish-orange bag and then watch for when the color changes into a dark one. It doesn’t mean the feelings or story is dark, but represents the maturity that comes with life.
Mia herself is the epitome of life, energy and growth. In her first real interaction with Sebastian she wears a bright yellow dress with flowers on it. Later, after she moves in with Sebastian, there’s a scene with no fewer than four potted flowering plants in his previously empty apartment—and all appear in the same shot with Mia. If you compare their apartments you see her vibrancy as well. Her apartment is packed with people, color and things. His is stark until she moves in and then slowly things start to change.
Damien Chazelle, whose 2014 film WHIPLASH won three Oscars, wrote and directed LA LA LAND. He says he wanted to do a traditional musical in a contemporary way. It does feel completely timeless and I found myself wondering about the time period before reminding myself that it was present day.
LA LA LAND pays tribute to an older style of filmmaking in three distinct ways through the cinematography. First, there are a lot of camera push-ins during which the camera moves closer to the subject, more than we normally see in modern filmmaking.
Second, there are a lot of long shots without camera cuts. It puts more pressure on the actors because good takes cannot be pieced together.
Finally, the third element of stylized cinematography is the use of frequent Swish pans, which is when the camera movement is so fast that everything becomes a blur. These aren’t styles that are used a lot today and create a distinctive period feel.
Interested in more analysis about LA LA LAND? Wondering about the Fellini-esque elements and some of the more obscure locations used in the Los Angeles area? For more about LA LA LAND, take a look below:
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