I have written at some length before about a type of film I have dubbed the "exploding heart movie," which is a movie that speaks directly to us in such a way so as to cause a kind of emotional overload, filling us with so much love and joy that it feels like we're going to burst. Everyone had different exploding heart movies, and everyone's exploding heart moments in their exploding heart movies are different. This, of course, is because we are all unique and beautiful snowflakes.
La La Land is writer/director Damien Chazelle's exploding heart movie, designed not just to speak to the emotions of the audience -- and boy, does it ever -- but to lay bare all of the joy and passion the filmmaker feels about making movies. The film has been described as a love letter to Los Angeles or to classic Hollywood musicals. I guess it's those things. To me, La La Land is a love letter to anyone who loves movies. It's Chazelle saying "I am lucky to make movies. I love movies. You, the audience, loves movies. Let's fucking love this movie together." It works. I fucking love this movie.
Yes, La La Land is a musical -- a sprawling, wildly ambitious, gorgeously photographed and perfectly choreographed musical. From the opening number, an astonishing single-take number in stuck traffic on the L.A. freeway, to "A Lovely Night," one of the most charming first dates in memory, to the breathtaking and gravity-defying "Planetarium" to the show-stopping "Audition" (the number that is likely to singlehandedly score Emma Stone a Best Actress nomination), nearly all of the musical sequences achieve one kind of transcendence or another. I won't argue that all of the songs themselves are great; there are standouts like "City of Stars," but others that faded from memory moments after they had finished. What does not fade is the exuberant energy with which Chazelle (and choreographer Mandy Moore [not that Mandy Moore]) stage the numbers, using them sometimes to advance the story but mostly to express emotions being felt by the characters that are too big to be expressed in words. This is the beauty of musicals, and what separates them from more "realistic" stories.
Whiplash to make a movie that is bigger and riskier but which once again concerns itself first and foremost with expressing an emotional state through form.