VENICE, Italy — Festival fever: It’s ensnared even the most cynical of critics. There’s something about the heightened atmosphere, absence of expectation, and lack of sleep that proves a transfixing cocktail; akin to a starved sweep across supermarket shelves where, with its mouth-watering options bathed in fluorescence, you giddily give in to temptation and purchase a slew of extraneous items.
But La La Land, the musical-romance from Oscar-nominated filmmaker Damien Chazelle, is a lovely film. The director’s much-anticipated follow-up to Whiplash tells the tale of Mia (Emma Stone), a barista and aspiring actress, and Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), a stubborn jazz pianist, struggling to make their dreams come true in the City of Angels. The easy-on-the-eyes actors sing, smolder, and tap-dance to a picture-perfect L.A. sunset while hitting ever-increasing heights of sartorial splendor.
During a press conference at the Venice Film Festival, where the film made its premiere, Chazelle and Stone dished on the “hopeful” movie—which is sure to be on the lips of awards pundits for the next several months.
“I think now more than ever we need hope and romance on the screen, and I think that there’s something about musicals that just get at something that only movies can do: that idea of movies as a dreamland, movies as the land of our dreams, and movies as a way of expressing a world in which you break into song, and that emotions can violate the rules of reality,” said Chazelle.
Stone, who admitted she’s “loved musicals” since she saw Les Mis at the age of 8, echoed those sentiments, describing how the old-fashioned romance of La La Land—inspired by films like 8½, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, and Singin’ in the Rain—is a welcome antidote to the cynicism plaguing the world.
“What I would hope young people would take away from it is, I don’t know if you remember when Conan O’Brien left his show… but he made a speech at the end of it, and he said ‘to let go of cynicism’ and that ‘cynicism was the ugliest quality’ to him,” said Stone. “And I think something about Damien and what Damien created, and the hopefulness and the joy and the beauty of this medium but also this story… this movie is in no way cynical. It’s about dreaming, and hoping, and working toward something to achieve something, and I think young people have fallen into a lot of cynicism, and making fun of things, and pointing out the flaws in everything, and this movie is anything but that. So it’s a huge joy to be a part of it and show it to young people. This is what I hope young people will do—work hard to achieve their dreams and hope, instead of be cynical.”
Chazelle confessed that he’d written the film—and most of the music was completed—before Whiplash, and that the film had been gestating in his mind for quite some time, inspired by the “loneliness” of life as an L.A. transplant. “The idea of this movie in terms of L.A. was to build from all the clichés that we make fun of about L.A.—the traffic, the terrible parties, the celebrity culture, the shallowness—but then try to maybe build from that to an actual love letter, to try to see what is beautiful underneath the surface,” he said.
Of course, this is the third collaboration between the chemistry-rich onscreen duo of Stone and Gosling—after their GIF-worthy Dirty Dancing routine in Crazy, Stupid, Love and the disappointing period saga Gangster Squad—and it seems they’re showing no signs of slowing down.
“To work with Ryan again, who is my buddy, it’s wonderful to get to work with someone you know and trust so much as an actor and as a human being. So it was great,” said Stone.
“I knew he could sing and dance, but we had to learn to ballroom dance together,” she added. “Once you’ve learned to ballroom dance with somebody, I mean, you’ve learned everything you need to know. If you want to get to know someone, take some ballroom dancing classes with them. He’s very good at leading.”