La La Land (film)

2016 film by Damien Chazelle
La La Land
A man and a woman dancing at sunset; a city view stretches out behind them. The woman is wearing a bright yellow dress; her partner is wearing a white colored shirt and tie with dark trousers.
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Damien Chazelle
Produced by
Written by Damien Chazelle
Starring
Music by Justin Hurwitz
Cinematography Linus Sandgren
Edited by Tom Cross
Production
companies
Distributed by Summit Entertainment
Release date
  • August 31, 2016 (2016-08-31) (Venice Film Festival)
  • December 9, 2016 (2016-12-09) (United States)
Running time
128 minutes[2]
Country United States
Language English
Budget $30 million[3]
Box office $369 million[4]

La La Land is a 2016 American musical romantic comedy-drama film written and directed by Damien Chazelle, and starring Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone as a musician and an aspiring actress who meet and fall in love in Los Angeles. The film's title refers both to the city of Los Angeles and to the idiom for being out of touch with reality.

Chazelle wrote the screenplay in 2010 but did not find a studio willing to finance the production without changes to his design. Following the success of his 2014 film Whiplash, the project was picked up by Summit Entertainment. La La Land premiered at the Venice Film Festival on August 31, 2016 and was released in the United States on December 9, 2016. It has grossed $369 million[when?] worldwide on a production budget of $30 million.

La La Land received acclaim upon its release and was regarded as one of the best films of 2016. Critics praised Chazelle's screenplay and direction, Gosling and Stone's performances, Justin Hurwitz's score, and the film's musical numbers. At the 89th Academy Awards, the film received a record-tying 14 nominations (equalling 1997's Titanic and 1950's All About Eve), including Best Director, Best Actor (Gosling), Best Actress (Stone), and two nominations for Best Original Song ("Audition" and "City of Stars"), and won six awards including Best Director and Best Actress.[5] The film also won in every category it was nominated at the 74th Golden Globe Awards, with a record-breaking seven wins, and received 11 nominations at the 70th British Academy Film Awards, winning five.

Contents

Plot

Stuck in traffic on a crowded Los Angeles highway (during the ooening number, "Another Day of Sun"), Mia (Emma Stone), an on-studio (on the Warner Bros. lot) barista and aspiring actress, has a moment of road rage with Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), a struggling jazz pianist. Her subsequent audition goes poorly despite her efforts. That night, Mia's roommates take her to a lavish party in the Hollywood Hills to cheer her up ("Someone in the Crowd"). She has to take a long walk back after finding that her car has been towed away.

During a gig at a restaurant, Sebastian slips into a passionate jazz improvisation despite warnings from the owner (J. K. Simmons) to stick to the setlist. Mia overhears the music as she passes by ("Mia and Sebastian's Theme"). Moved, she enters, but Sebastian is promptly fired for his disobedience. As he storms out, Mia attempts to compliment him, but he coldly brushes her off.

Months later, Mia runs into Sebastian at a party where he plays in a 1980s pop cover band; she teases him by requesting "I Ran (So Far Away)", a song he considers an insult for "a real musician". After the gig, the two walk together to find their cars, lamenting being in each other's company despite the chemistry between them ("A Lovely Night").

Mia takes Sebastian on a walk around the movie lot, explaining her passion for acting; Sebastian takes Mia to a jazz club, describing his passion for jazz and desire to open his own club. They warm to each other ("City of Stars"). Sebastian invites Mia to a screening of Rebel Without a Cause, which Mia accepts, forgetting an earlier commitment with her current boyfriend. Discontented with the latter date, she leaves and rushes to the theatre, finding Sebastian as the film begins. The two conclude their evening with a romantic dance at the Griffith Observatory ("Planetarium").

After more failed auditions, Mia decides, at Sebastian's suggestion, to write a personal single-actress play. Sebastian begins to perform regularly at a jazz club ("Summer Montage"), and the two move in together. A former classmate, Keith (John Legend), invites Sebastian to be the keyboardist in his jazz band, which offers a steady source of income. Dismayed over the band's pop-oriented style, Sebastian initially refuses but decides to sign with them after overhearing Mia trying to convince her mother that Sebastian is working on his career. Mia attends one of their concerts ("Start a Fire") but is disturbed, knowing Sebastian does not enjoy his band's music.

During the band's first tour, Mia and Sebastian get into an argument; she accuses him of abandoning his dreams, while he claims she liked him more when he was unsuccessful. Insulted, Mia leaves. On the night of Mia's play, Sebastian fails to show up due to a photo shoot he had forgotten about. The play is a disaster; few people attend it, and Mia overhears dismissive comments. Despondent, she decides to move back home to Boulder City, Nevada.

One day, Sebastian receives a call from a casting director who had attended Mia's play, inviting Mia to a film audition the following evening. Sebastian drives to Boulder City and persuades Mia to attend. For the audition Mia is simply asked to tell a story; she begins to sing about her aunt who inspired her to pursue acting ("Audition/The Fools Who Dream"). Convinced that Mia has succeeded, Sebastian asserts that she must devote herself wholeheartedly to the opportunity. They profess they will always love each other but are uncertain of their future.

Five years later, Mia is a famous actress and happily married to another man (Tom Everett Scott), with whom she has a daughter. One night, the couple stumbles upon a jazz bar. Noticing the Seb's logo she had once designed, Mia realizes Sebastian has finally opened his club. Sebastian spots Mia in the crowd, and both are visibly unsettled. He begins to play their love theme, prompting an extended dream sequence in which the two imagine what might have been had their relationship worked perfectly ("Epilogue"). The song ends, and Mia leaves with her husband. Before departing, she shares one last look with Sebastian, and they both smile.

Cast

Production

Pre-production

 
Damien Chazelle received many awards and nominations for writing and directing the film.

As a drummer himself, Damien Chazelle has a strong predilection for musical films.[6] He wrote the screenplay for La La Land in 2010, during a period in his life when the movie industry seemed out of reach for him.[7] His idea of the film was "to take the old musical but ground it in real life where things don't always exactly work out,"[6] and to pay homage and salute creative people who move to Los Angeles to chase their dreams.[8] He conceived the idea for the film when he was a student at Harvard University, along with his classmate, Justin Hurwitz. The two explored the concept in their senior thesis through a low-budget musical about a Boston jazz musician titled Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench.[9][10] Chazelle was moved by the tradition of 1920s city symphony films, such as Manhatta (1921) or Man With a Movie Camera (1929), that paid tribute to other cities.[11] After graduating, both moved to Los Angeles in 2010 and continued writing the script, but made a few modifications, such as altering the location to Los Angeles instead of Boston.[9]

L.A., even more so than any other American city, obscures, sometimes neglects, its own history. But that can also be its own magical thing, because it's a city that reveals itself bit by bit, like an onion, if you take the time to explore it.[11]

Rather than trying to match L.A. to the charms of Paris or San Francisco, he focused on the qualities and elements that make the city distinctive: the traffic, the sprawl, and the skies.[11] The style and tone of the film were inspired by Jacques Demy's The Umbrellas of Cherbourg and The Young Girls of Rochefort, especially the latter, which was far more dance and jazz-oriented.[12] The film also has numerous visual allusions to Hollywood classics such as Broadway Melody of 1940, Singin' in the Rain, and The Band Wagon.[13] It shares a certain resemblance with his previous musical work, Whiplash, in terms of character development and themes. Chazelle has said that "they're both about the struggle of being an artist and reconciling your dreams with the need to be human. La La Land is just much less angry about it."[14] He said that both films reflect his own experiences as a filmmaker working his way up the Hollywood ladder.[8] La La Land in particular is inspired by his experience, of moving from the East Coast with preconceived notions of what L.A. would be like, "that it was all just strip malls and freeways."[11]

Chazelle was unable to produce the film for years as no studio was willing to finance an original contemporary musical, with no familiar songs to build off a pre-existing fan base. It was also a jazz musical, which The Hollywood Reporter called an "extinct genre". He believed that since the team behind the project – he and Hurwitz – were unknown at that time, it might have made financiers dubious about the project's potential.[15][9] Chazelle managed to find producers through friends who introduced him to Fred Berger and Jordan Horowitz. With the two producers on board, the script then landed at Focus Features at a budget of around $1 million. The studio demanded numerous alterations to things that Chazelle felt were distinctive and pivotal to the storyline: the male lead was asked to be changed from a jazz pianist to a rock musician, the complicated opening number had to be altered, and the story's bittersweet ending needed to be dropped. Chazelle, unwilling to make such huge sacrifices, scrapped the project and moved on.[9]

Chazelle later wrote Whiplash, which was an easier concept to sell and a less risky investment.[16] After the film was well received by critics upon its premiere at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival in January, Chazelle continued his efforts to bring La La Land to the big screen.[9] A year later, when Whiplash earned five Oscar nominations at the 87th Academy Awards including Best Picture, and grossed nearly $50 million worldwide off a $3.3 million production budget, Chazelle and his project began to attract attention from studios.[15]

Five years after he wrote the script,[17] Summit Entertainment and Black Label Media agreed to invest in the film and distribute it, along with producer Marc Platt. They were impressed by the critical and commercial success of Whiplash.[8] Lionsgate's Patrick Wachsberger, who had previously worked on the Step Up franchise, pushed Chazelle to increase the film's budget since he felt high-quality musicals could not be made cheaply.[18]

Initially, Miles Teller and Emma Watson were both set to star in the leads. Watson dropped out over a commitment to the 2017 adaptation of Beauty and the Beast, while Teller departed via long contract negotiations.[7] Chazelle decided to make his characters somewhat older, with experience in struggling to make their dreams, rather than younger newcomers just arriving in Los Angeles.[9]

Casting

 
Ryan Gosling learned tap dancing and piano for his role.

Emma Stone plays Mia, a struggling actress working as a barista at a coffee shop on the Warner Bros. lot in Los Angeles, who serves lattes in between auditions.[15] Stone has loved musicals since she saw Les Misérables when she was 8 years old, saying that "bursting into song has always been a real dream of mine", and that her favorite film is the 1931 Charlie Chaplin romantic comedy City Lights.[15][6] She studied pom dancing as a child, with a year of ballet.[15] She moved to Hollywood with her mother at the age of 15 to pursue a career, and struggled constantly to get an audition during her first year. When she did, she was often turned away after singing or saying just one line.[19] Stone drew from her own experiences for her character of Mia, and some were added into the film.[14]

She met Chazelle in 2014 while she was making her Broadway debut in Cabaret. Chazelle and Hurwitz saw her perform on a night when the actress had a cold.[15][20] She met with Chazelle at Brooklyn Diner in New York City, where the director outlined his vision for the planned film.[21] Stone gained confidence from performing in Cabaret to handle the demands of the film.[21] In preparation for her role, Stone watched some of the musical movies that inspired Chazelle, including The Umbrellas of Cherbourg and Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers collaborations.[17] Stone accepted the offer because Chazelle was so passionate about the project.[21]

 
Singer-songwriter John Legend has a supporting role in the film and also was an executive producer.

Ryan Gosling plays Sebastian, a jazz pianist who makes a living by playing cocktail party gigs in dingy bars, and has dreams of opening his own club.[15] Like Stone, Gosling drew from his own experiences as an aspiring artist. One incident was used for Mia. Gosling was performing a crying scene in an audition and the casting director took a phone call during it, talking about her lunch plans while he was emoting.[15][19][22] Chazelle met with Gosling at a bar near the latter's home in Hollywood Hills, when Gosling was about to begin filming for The Big Short.[9]

Chazelle cast the two immediately after Summit bought the film.[8] He said the two "feel like the closest thing that we have right now to an old Hollywood couple," akin to Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, and Myrna Loy and William Powell.[14] The film marked the third collaboration between Gosling and Stone, following Crazy, Stupid, Love (2011) and Gangster Squad (2013).[23] Chazelle asked the two about their audition disasters when they were both trying to make it.[19] Both learned how to sing and dance for the film's six original tunes.[9]

The rest of the cast – J. K. Simmons, Sonoya Mizuno, Jessica Rothe, Callie Hernandez, Finn Wittrock, Rosemarie DeWitt, John Legend, Jason Fuchs, Meagen Fay – were announced between July and August 2015.[24][25][26][27][28][29] Legend plays Keith, a successful mainstream jazz performer and the leader of the band "The Messengers", which Sebastian joins.[15]

The film was choreographed by Mandy Moore. Rehearsals took place at a production office in Atwater Village over the span of three to four months, beginning in May 2015. Gosling practiced piano in one room, Stone worked with Moore in another, and costume designer Mary Zophres had her own corner of the complex.[15][9] Moore emphasised emotion rather than technique, which Stone said was key when they filmed the Prius scene.[15] To help his cast and crew get their creative mode flowing, Chazelle held screenings on the soundstages every Friday night of classical films that had inspired him for the film, including The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, Singin' in the Rain, Top Hat, and Boogie Nights.[9]

Filming

The Judge Harry Pregerson Interchange (left) where the opening scene was filmed, and the Griffith Observatory, where Gosling and Stone's characters float into the stars.

From the beginning, Chazelle wanted the film's musical numbers to be filmed "head to toe" and performed in a single take, like those of the 1930s works of Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire.[21] He also wanted the film to emulate the widescreen, CinemaScope look of 1950s musicals such as It's Always Fair Weather. Consequently, the film was shot on film (not digitally) with Panavision equipment in a widescreen format, but not true CinemaScope as that technology is no longer available.[30][31][32][33]

Chazelle wanted Los Angeles to be the primary setting for his film, commenting that "there is something very poetic about the city I think, about a city that is built by people with these unrealistic dreams and people who kind of just put it all on the line for that."[6] Principal photography on the film officially began in the city on August 10, 2015,[34] and filming took place in more than 60 L.A. locations, including the downtown trolley, houses in the Hollywood Hills, Angels Flight, the Colorado Street Bridge, South Pasadena, Grand Central Market, Hermosa Beach Chateau Marmont Hotel, and the Watts Towers, with many scenes shot in one take. It took 40 days to complete shooting, finishing in mid-September 2015.[9][35][36]

The opening pre-credits sequence was the first to be shot,[9] and was filmed on a closed-off portion of the carpool ramp of the Los Angeles highway, connecting the 105 freeway to the 110, leading to Downtown Los Angeles. It was filmed in a span of two days, and required over 100 dancers.[8][37] For this particular scene, Chazelle wanted to give a sense of how vast the city is.[11] The scene was originally planned for a stretch of ground-level highway, until Chazelle decided to shoot it in the 105–110 interchange, which arcs 100 feet in the air. Production designer David Wasco said, "I thought somebody was going to fall off and get killed." Not every portion of the highway was blocked.[9] Chazelle compared the scene to the yellow brick road leading to the Emerald City in The Wizard of Oz (1939).[9]

 
The Angels Flight (pictured), which was shut down in 2013, was re-opened for a day exclusively for the film's cast and crew to facilitate shooting for a scene.

Chazelle scouted for "old L.A." locations that were in ruins, or were perhaps razed. One such example is filming in the Angels Flight trolly built in 1901. The funicular had been closed in 2013 after a derailment. Attempts were made to repair and re-open the railway, but to no avail. However, the production team was able to secure permission to use it for a day. Chazelle and his crew then arranged to have it run for shooting.[11] Mia works at a coffee shop near studio lots, which Chazelle views as "monuments" of Hollywood. Production designer Wasco created numerous fake old film posters. Chazelle occasionally created names for them, deciding to use the title of his first feature, Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench (2009), for one poster, which reimagines it as a 1930s musical.[11]

The six-minute long Prius scene had to be completed during the brief "magic hour" moment at sunset. It took eight takes and two days to shoot it.[15] When Gosling and Stone finally nailed it, "everybody just exploded," Stone said.[21] Since Gosling and Stone were not Broadway performers, the two made a number of mistakes, especially during long uninterrupted single-take musical numbers. However, Chazelle was very sympathetic towards them, understanding their lack of experience and not minding their errors.[17] While shooting Sebastian and Mia's first dance together, Stone stumbled over the back of a bench, but picked right up and kept on going with the scene.[17]

Chazelle spent nearly a year editing the film with editor Tom Cross, as the two were primarily concerned with getting the tone just right.[9]

Music

The songs and score for La La Land were composed and orchestrated by Justin Hurwitz, Chazelle's Harvard University classmate, who also worked on his two prior films.[15] The lyrics were written by Pasek and Paul,[21] except for "Start a Fire", which was written by John Stephens, Hurwitz, Marius De Vries and Angelique Cinelu.[38]

A soundtrack album was released on December 9, 2016, by Interscope Records, featuring selections from Hurwitz's score and songs performed by the cast.[38]

Release

La La Land had its world premiere as the Venice Film Festival's opening night film on August 31, 2016.[39][40] The film also screened at the Telluride Film Festival,[41] the Toronto International Film Festival, beginning September 12, 2016,[42] the BFI London Film Festival,[43] the Middleburg Film Festival in late October 2016, the Virginia Film Festival, held at the University of Virginia on November 6, 2016, and the AFI Fest on November 15, 2016.[44]

The film was initially set for a July 15, 2016 release;[45] however, in March 2016, it was announced the film would be given a limited release starting December 2, 2016, before expanding on December 16.[46] Chazelle stated that the change was because he felt that the release date was not right for the context of the film, and because he wanted to have a slow rollout beginning with the early fall film festivals.[14] The film was later pushed back a week to December 9, with the wide release still being planned for December 16.[47] Lionsgate opened the film in five locations on December 9, and expanded it to about 200 theaters on December 16, before going nationwide on December 25. The film went fully wide on January 6, 2017,[36] with a release into select IMAX theaters a week later.[48]

La La Land was released in the United Kingdom on January 12, 2017.[49] The film was released in the Netherlands on December 22, 2016, and in Australia on December 26, with the rest of the territories planned for a release from mid-January 2017.[50]

Box office

As of February 26, 2017, La La Land has grossed $140.9 million in the United States and Canada and $228.1 million in other territories for a worldwide total of $369 million against a production budget of $30 million.[4]

La La Land began its theatrical release with a limited release in five theaters in Los Angeles and New York City on December 9. It made $881,107 in its opening weekend, giving the film a per-theater average of $176,221, the best average of the year.[51][52][53] In its second week of limited release, the film expanded to 200 theaters and grossed $4.1 million, finishing 7th at the box office. It was an increase of 366% from the previous week and good for and a per-theater of $20,510.[54] The following week, the film had its wide expansion to 734 theaters, grossing $5.8 million for the weekend (including $4 million on Christmas Day and $9.2 million over the four days), and finishing 8th at the box office.[55] On January 6, 2017, the weekend of the Golden Globes, the film expanded to 1,515 theaters and grossed $10 million over the weekend, finishing 5th at the box office.[56] In its 6th week of release, the film grossed $14.5 million (a total of $16.9 million over the four-day MLK weekend), finishing 2nd at the box office behind Hidden Figures.[57] After receiving its 14 Oscar nominations, the film expanded to 3,136 theaters on January 27, 2017 (an increase of 1,271 from the week before) and grossed $12.1 million (up 43% from its previous week's $8.4 million).[58] During the weekend of February 24–26 (the weekend of the Academy Awards) the film grossed $4.6 million, exactly the same amount it grossed the previous weekend.[59]

Critical reception

 
Emma Stone garnered widespread positive reviews for her performance.

La La Land was met with critical acclaim upon its release, with critics praising its screenplay, direction, performances, musical score and musical numbers.[60][61][62][63] The review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes gives the film an approval rating of 93%, based on 332 reviews, with an average rating of 8.6/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "La La Land breathes new life into a bygone genre with thrillingly assured direction, powerful performances, and an irresistible excess of heart."[64] On Metacritic, which assigns a normalized rating based on reviews, the film has a score of 93 out of 100 based on 53 critics, indicating "universal acclaim".[65] It was the sixth-highest scoring film released in 2016.[66]

Peter Travers of Rolling Stone gave La La Land four stars out of four, describing it as "a hot miracle" and complimenting its musical numbers, particularly the opening scene. He went on to name it his favorite movie of the year.[67] Michael Phillips of the Chicago Tribune similarly lauded the opening sequence, in addition to highlighting Stone's performance, stating "she's reason enough to see La La Land." Despite being less enthusiastic about Gosling's dancing and the film's middle section, Phillips nevertheless gave the film four out of four stars, declaring it "the year's most seriously pleasurable entertainment".[68]

A. O. Scott of the New York Times praised the film, stating that it "succeeds both as a fizzy fantasy and a hard-headed fable, a romantic comedy and a showbiz melodrama, a work of sublime artifice and touching authenticity".[69] Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian awarded the film five out of five stars, describing it as "a sun-drenched musical masterpiece."[70] Tom Charity of Sight & Sound stated, "Chazelle has crafted that rare thing, a genuinely romantic comedy, and as well, a rhapsody in blue, red, yellow and green."[71] Diana Dabrowska of Cinema Scope wrote, "La La Land may look like the world that we dream about, but it also understands the cruelty that can come out of (or undermine) those dreams; it's shot in CinemaScope, and yet it's still an intimate masterpiece."[72]

The film has been criticized for its treatment of race and jazz. Kelly Lawler of USA Today noted that Gosling's character has been referred to as a "white savior" by some critics, due to "his quest (and eventual success) to save the traditionally black musical genre from extinction, seemingly the only person who can accomplish such a goal."[73] The sentiment was also expressed by Ruby Lott-Lavigna of Wired,[74] Anna Silman of New York[75] and Ira Madison III of MTV News.[76] Rex Reed of the New York Observer also takes aim at the film's intention to emulate the MGM musical classics, noting that "the old-fashioned screenplay, by the ambitious writer-director Damien Chazelle, reeks of mothballs", and that "the movie sags badly in the middle, like a worn-out mattress that needs new springs".[77]

Accolades

La La Land received 14 nominations at the 89th Academy Awards, tying records for most nominations by a single film with Titanic (1997) and All About Eve (1950). Its nominations included Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (for Gosling), Best Actress (for Stone), Best Original Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Costume Design, Best Original Score, two nominations for Best Original Song ("City of Stars" and "Audition"), Best Production Design, Best Sound Editing and Best Sound Mixing.[78] During the ceremony, presenters Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty announced that La La Land had won Best Picture. However, they were actually holding an envelope for the Best Actress award that Stone had won moments prior. Producers quickly came onstage to rectify the mistake; the actual winner was Moonlight.[79][80]

At the 74th Golden Globe Awards, La La Land received a leading seven nominations.[81] The film won in all seven categories for which it was nominated, setting a record for most Golden Globes won by a single film, namely Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy, Best Director, Best Actor – Comedy or Musical for Gosling, Best Actress – Comedy or Musical for Stone, Best Screenplay, Best Original Score and Best Original Song ("City of Stars").[82]

La La Land received eleven nominations at the 70th British Academy Film Awards, more than any other film of 2016.[83] The film won in the categories of Best Film, Best Director, Best Actress in a Leading Role for Stone, Best Cinematography and Best Film Music.[84]

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