La La Land won’t be gracing screens in wide release until next month, but it’s already the movie on everyone’s lips. From a teaser trailer featuring a soulful and sweet serenade from Ryan Gosling to a second teaser set to a heartbreaking and beautiful tune from Emma Stone, to a recent full trailer that gave fans a first glimpse of dialogue from the leading players, La La Land has proven to be a movie capable of captivating. Having seen it, I can tell you that the hype is very, very real. This movie is magical.
And what’s more, leading lady Emma Stone and writer-director Damien Chazelle are more than happy to chat about the experience of making it. The pair took the red carpet by storm on opening night at Denver Film Festival 39, and stopped along the way to answer questions from the throng of press who turned up for the occasion.
The performance that has Emma Stone surrounded by so much Oscar buzz is a complex and personal one. She stars as Mia, an aspiring actress contending with the harsh realities of trying to make it in Tinsel Town. And if you ask Emma Stone if the process of bringing Mia to life had personal resonance, she won’t deny it. In fact, she shared that the process did give her a new perspective and new insights on her own Hollywood story.
“I felt, there was a thing that I realized, I think, a little later on watching the movie. People would ask me about bad audition stories, because there’s just a lot of really tough auditions and a lot of rejection and I realized that actually, the part that I related to most was the stretches of time where you don’t get any auditions and you feel sort of forgotten about and lonely and ignored. There’s a part, where she sort of decides to pack it in for a while. I think that element was … Yeah, I could relate to that feeling of feeling a little ignored,” Stone reflected.
This, she said, is a situation that’s in many ways worse than outright rejection, because it breeds uncertainty. “It’s sort of like if you don’t get to try, how can you ever know? It’s better to try and fail than to not get to try.”
But for all the catharsis, and the spotlight it casts on the struggle for art, La La Land is still very much a picture that evokes a magical quality. And finding the balance between the real emotions of the characters and that sense of wonder was something both Stone and Damien Chazelle said was a key focus and challenge for them during production.
For her part, Stone said it came down to a lot of rehearsal. Rehearsal to the point where the material was almost second nature to the performers so they could just “let it go and try to be as present as possible.”
Chazelle echoed that sentiment, saying it was essential for the entire team to be very conscious of that tonal balance. La La Land is a picture that manages to harken back to the era of the big Hollywood musical in many elements of style and aesthetic, an achievement that Chazelle credits to the people he found to help bring it to life.
“I think I was really lucky to just be with a group of people who are super talented and just had great ideas and it was about trying to use real locations, use a lot of real spaces but then kind of dress them up or shoot them in certain ways that felt a little magical but the whole idea was to make sure we never lost sight of that realistic footing, where it did still feel like the city that we knew.”
This, he says, comes through in the picture when you have moments like a song-and-dance number on the LA freeway and you ensure that the camera moves just so, while the colors remain rich and saturated. All of it combines into the larger experience of the picture.
And all this was done in a year that many have seen as bleak, and in an environment where movies like this just aren’t made anymore. It’s a reality that created challenges for Chazelle to be sure, but also one that has allowed the film to resonate with audiences even from the first glimpse of the trailer.
“Well, I mean, I think [that resonance] may be partly to do with the fact that it’s not what you expect from movies right now. [With] musicals going out of fashion, like 40, 30 years ago, I feel like a lot of that was people expecting more realism from movies, so my hope here was actually to be able to make a realistic musical. Make a movie that felt rounded and where you bought the emotions but where you still allow yourself to unfold in these big song and dance numbers, so that was the hope.”
If we have anything to say on the subject, Chazelle and team pulled that off. We cannot recommend La La Land enough. Catch it in theaters next month and be transported.