Why "La La Land" Deserves its Awards

11:04 AM

The movie of everyone's 2016 dreams (and mine), the darling of awards season, won the Academy Award for Best Score, Best Director, and Best Cinematography. Find out my theory on why these awards are deservedly given, and why "La La Land"" is a film of the times. 

Besides the infamous Oscar mishap, two things come to my mind when thinking about Damien Chazelle's "La La Land": the dazzling score, the vibrant colors. As I watched the film over and over again, I began to notice some of the intricate color and music details that make the movie deserved of its cinematography and music awards. The overarching theme is the diffusion of the two as the film goes along. 

Besides the many instrumental songs, "La La Land" has a handful of iconic musical numbers: "Another Day of Sun", "Someone in the Crowd", "A Lovely Night", "City of Stars", and "Audition (The Fools Who Dream)". Out of the five, three occur prior to or at the burgeoning of main characters' Mia and Sebastian's relationship. As the film proceeds, most of the music become reiterations of this pool of songs (rearrangements, instrumentals, or otherwise).

A diffusion of this kind also occurs with the visuals, too- namely, color. The opening sequence, "Another Day of Sun", is explosive with its bright primary colors and light. Almost all following scenes upkeep the saturated palette. Mia's wardrobe starts out this way, as well, wearing pure blues and yellows at her first couple run-ins with future lover Sebastian. But, as the film progresses, you also see a diffusion of the distinctive colors into a more mundane, everyday palette. When Mia greets her sparse audience at her one woman show, the colors are drab and moody- almost indistinguishable as a still from "La La Land"! 

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Both of these details, I believe, are intentional acts by brilliant Chazelle. The beginning of the film is dizzy with the fantasy of each character's respective dreams: Mia's of being an actress, and Sebastian's of opening a jazz club. It is an almost naive point of view, as seen in Seb's near ignorance at the reality of needing steady income his sister imposes. Their dreams, maybe because of how far away they seem, are portrayed through the film's lenses of grandeur and wonder as musical numbers and flamboyant cinematography. It is also at this time where we see the nimble flirtations of Seb and Mia towards one another, through coy conversations and a dreamy first date. 

As the film goes on, as dreams are being pursued realistically by both of them, as the worlds of relationship and career goals collide, the music and colors tone down. The peak of their supportive and loving relationship, towards the middle of the movie, shows scenes that are relatively neutral in frame. The colors and situations are as one would see in the real world, the musical numbers are traded in favor of more demure songs like "City of Stars". 

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Towards the end, by Seb's gig with "The Messengers", Mia's "failed" one woman show, and her time in Nevada, the colors are dark and the music nonexistent. This is the the bottom-of-the-barrel for their relationship- this is reality. 

At first, this was the extent of my theory. Then, I noticed another thing: the film is a little circular. After Nevada, when Mia sings "Audition (The Fools Who Dream)" and she talks to Seb at the Griffith Observatory, the neutrality of the colors and music returns. The Griffith isn't a dreamscape of stars anymore, just the one public folk visit. Mia wears a softer blue and sings a delicate song. The epilogue, the grand finale number, culminates with a 9-minute sequence of dancing, artificial sets, brilliant colors, and the iconic songs from the beginning of the movie. It is then I realize that though the "middle" of the movie is determined by its run time, the true "center" that the movie revolves around is the darkness of reality, of their relationship and dreams. 

Against the backdrop of almost silly-in-hope Old Hollywood musicals, the message of sacrifice and reality is sobering and genius. Choosing to portray those themes through color and music is really what the film is all about: a sense of magic juxtaposed with ordinary lives that makes "La La Land" simultaneously classic and very 2016.

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