“La La Land” director Damian Chazelle dares to dream big


If you want to know why Director Damian Chazelle made an old-style Hollywood musical, the answer starts, like his films, with jazz.
“Jazz to me is an example of an art form where there’s a lot of debate about how it should exist today,” he explained in an interview with dpa in Los Angeles. “Should it really be updated, modernised for today? If you do that are you bastardizing the art form?”
He asked the same questions about the classic old-style movie musicals of the 1940s and 50s — and came up with an answer.
“I wanted to try to make the case that they can still be relevant, and can still be timely, they can still be modern,” he said.
The case he made: “La La Land.”
The film is a candy-coloured confection, a homage to vintage musicals with their simple stories and big dreams, suspended between the past and future with a wry wit and a touch of the surreal.
Emma Stone plays Mia, an aspiring actress who dreams big from behind the counter of a coffee shop on a Hollywood studio lot. Stuck in traffic on Los Angeles’ famed freeways, she meets Seb (Ryan Gosling) a gifted jazz pianist down on his luck.
Sparks fly, but the two soon fall in love, movie musical-style — with a duet and even a few steps of tap dance overlooking the sunset lights of Los Angeles.
Chazelle conceived “La La Land” a decade ago with composer Justin Hurwitz while the two were still students at Harvard University.
But it took some time to convince Hollywood to make it.
“Pitching an original musical in Hollywood today was… tricky,” he admitted, laughing. “Telling people I wanted my former college roommate to write all the music was also tricky.”
The two were unknown in the movie industry, and “it was all a big gamble,” he said. It turned out, they needed to make another movie first.
That film was “Whiplash,” the tense, psychological drama about a jazz student and his malevolent teacher that won three Oscars in 2015.
It proved they had what it takes to make a Hollywood hit — and cracked open the door for “La La Land.”
The result is what seems poised to be one of the year’s hit films. It has already picked up eight Critics’ Choice awards including best picture and seven Golden Globe nominations, and is seen as a top contender for the Oscars as well.
Its popularity may be due in part to its simple pleasure.
“It gives you two hours of optimism in the movie theatre at a time when the world could use that,” Chazelle said.
But its classic tale of boy meets girl amid the lights of Hollywood also asks — and answers — big questions about art and dreams and love, with what Chazelle says is a message for audiences around the world.
“You should never stop dreaming,” he said. “No matter how low things get, or how bad things seem, there’s always a place for dreams and for hope and for joy and love and art and beauty.” — dpa