When you think "musical", you usually think “songs”. It’s a beloved genre of filmmaking that has evolved from decade to decade throughout history, and with La La Land we find a group of young filmmakers behind and in front of the camera using the genre to tell a story about chasing dreams and all the obstacles that come with life’s pursuit of purpose and happiness. La La Land tells the story of an aspiring actress and an aspiring jazz musician who both find themselves struggling to find success in modern-day Los Angeles. The story follows their journey as they fall in love with each other and must choose which paths in life are worth taking.
Director Damien Chazelle continues his collaboration with his college friend and composer Justin Hurwitz. Justin wrote the score plus all the music for the songs, while Benj Hasek and Justin Paul gave life to the melodies by writing some fantastic lyrics. And here is where La La Land truly shines, it completely blurs the line between score and song. If you think about all of your favorite musicals, I think you’d be hard pressed to remember any of the scores. And that’s okay, because when it comes to musicals it’s about the songs. Or is it? Justin Hurwitz’s approach to La La Land was melody first, then lyrics. The melody was not dictated by lyric structure.
With La La Land, the entire experience was about the music, about the melody. The entire scoring and songwriting process took 2 years, scoring alone took 8 months. The music was the fabric of the narrative, and it truly was born from the melodies that became the thematic structure of it all. I think it’s beautiful that the film’s end credits is just Emma Stone humming along to “City Of Stars”, it’s a perfect representation of what a great musical should do. It should leave you humming those melodies as you walk out of the theater. I don’t think La La Land will ever be one of those musicals where years down the road the lyrics will become mainstream like “All That Jazz” or “Singin’ In The Rain”. But even if you can’t remember the words beyond “City of stars…”, the melody sticks. And what Justin was able to do was craft an amazingly structured and effective score that works as importantly as the songs do in the film. If you asked me to draw a line between the score and songs, I couldn't do it. They feel part of the same fabric and the songs never outshine the score, because when you look at the DNA of the film’s music it all boils down to the themes and the melodies.
La La Land is one of those special experiences that comes along and makes you feel happy to be alive. It’s an experience of song and score that are stitched together to form a musical quilt of melodies wonderfully structured to form the narrative. With Justin Hurwitz writing every melody in the film, including all the music for the songs and then having Benj Hasek and Justin Paul write lyrics to those melodies, the film comes to vivid life. You’re taken on an emotional journey in classic musical fashion that is an ode to the genre but also its own unique modern interpretation of the genre as well. If you are ever at a low point in your life or having a hard time, La La Land along with its music is a reaffirmation that life’s journey is worth living. And that includes every high point of joy and every low point of sorrow.
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