Passion, romance, and hope with a dash of nostalgia; this is La La Land. Composed by Golden Globe Award winner Justin Hurwitz, the Oscar-nominated film has two themes, love and chasing your dream. The characters navigate through this hopeful, discouraging, exciting and depressing time in their lives all while falling in and out of love. The music tells the story in a way that words just simply couldn’t. It enhances every moment. It allows you to not only see, but also to feel the emotions through the fall, winter, spring, and summer months that you’re on this journey with Mia and Sebastian.
The movie opens with “Another Day of Sun,” the film’s anthem for chasing your dreams. It starts big and upbeat, just as a musical number should start, drumming up excitement in the audience for what they’re about to see. A soft female voice enters humming notes along with abrupt piano chords and subtle horns reinforcing the opening of the tune. The jazz rhythm, the musical theme throughout the film, is soon after introduced as the lyrics come into play.
I think about that day
I left him at a Greyhound station
West of Santa Fé
We were seventeen, but he was sweet and it was true
Still I did what I had to do
‘Cause I just knew
The jazz rhythm continues as the music swells into the bridge with lyrics that are true for so many dreamers.
Without a nickel to my name
Hopped a bus, here I came
Could be brave or just insane
We’ll have to see
‘Cause maybe in that sleepy town
He’ll sit one day, the lights are down
He’ll see my face and think of how he…
Listen: “Another Day of Sun”
In true musical fashion, a choir of voices joins for the chorus. The voices intertwine with one another as the horns continue to pulse in the background.
Climb these hills
I’m reaching for the heights
And chasing all the lights that shine
And when they let you down
You’ll get up off the ground
‘Cause morning rolls around
And it’s another day of sun
The song ends and the humor of the movie, which is current and witty, makes it’s entrance as Mia holds up L.A. traffic while rehearsing for an audition, and Sebastian speeds past giving her a glaring look. It’s hardly a meet-cute, but a meet nonetheless.
“Someone in the Crowd” is the next song in the film. Just as “Another Day Of Sun,” it’s a strong musical number. The jazz rhythm and bass line walk up and down the scale with the accompaniment of an upbeat high hat. It has a Mama Mia quality that can’t be ignored, and a chorus that will stick in your head:
Someone in the crowd could be
the one you need to know
The one to finally lift you off the ground
Mia and her three roommates (also aspiring actresses) sing the song. The colors are bright and the smiles are wide as they prepare for yet another party that could be “the one” where they’re discovered. The music transitions from symphonies of strings and horns to a single beautiful piano. Mia, discouraged from a recent role rejection, softly sings the lyrics of the chorus while deliberating her attendance to the party. The beat steadily quickens, building our anticipation, and then it abruptly cuts off. It comes right back in with a bang as Mia joins her friends for the party. They dance in unison down the street finishing the number in a perfect way.
The next song in the film is “Mia and Sebastian’s Theme.” Its melancholy, yet uplifting melody is what ties the theme of love together throughout the duration of the film. Mia’s car is towed from the party leaving her left to walk home. Meanwhile at a restaurant nearby, Sebastian is being forced to play music that is not Jazz, which is his passion. As the night grows, he tires, and finally decides to play what he wants. This is “Mia and Sebastian’s Theme.” The song is like gravity for Mia. It pulls her into the restaurant where she is transfixed by the tune, and not soon after, the pianist. It starts as a soft melody on the keys, flowing back and forth in a beautiful wave, before building its way up. It slowly falls back down where Sebastian lets loose practically scaling the entire piano in an impressive run. Sebastian is fired after this stunt and abruptly bumps into and ignores Mia as she tries to compliment his playing on his way out. This melody plays throughout the film as it holds the emotion of every part of their relationship; the lift, the fall, the mess, and the conclusion.
After another party allows them to cross paths again, Mia and Sebastian finally have a real conversation, but it’s not until the next song “A Lovely Night,” where their relationship takes form. The music and lyrics of “A Lovely Night” are as flirtatious as the characters during this exciting stage of their romance. The faint piano starts with twinkles and high tones. The bass line picks up as it makes its way up and down the scale with the piano playing against it and horns teasing in throughout. The characters sing and dance throughout the number with lyrics that tease their affection.
“There’s not a spark in sight, what a waste of a lovely night.” Sebastian sings teasingly as Mia enters in “You say there’s nothing here, well lets make something clear, I think ill be the one to make that call,” Sebastian interjects slyly “But you’ll call?” Mia continues “Although you look so cute in your polyester suit, you’re right, I’d never fall for you at all.”
The music takes a pause and a twist as the lyrics end and the choreography ensues. When the bass line moves, the actors’ move. They’re completely in sync. The music picks up as they dance through the streets with the backdrop of Los Angeles. They sway naturally, yet precisely to the rhythm with impeccable storytelling choreography. They move back and forth with the music as it builds tension between the pair. When the flirtation of the music, lyrics, and choreography of this scene is over, there is absolutely no denying the chemistry.
“City of Stars” is the most pivotal song in the film. It intertwines the two themes of love and chasing your dreams so perfectly. It’s beautiful, eerie, and memorizing. It begins with just four notes on the piano. What’s so interesting is that it is just four notes that have likely been used thousands of times in thousands of songs, but never in this way. The arrangement of these notes in “City Of Stars,” somehow captures the feeling of La La Land in a way that simply can’t be described. You really just have to listen. The four notes adjust slightly for the simple and eloquent lyrics that capture the story with just a few short sentences.
“City of stars, are you shining just for me, City of stars there’s so much that I can’t see. Who knows, is this the start of something wonderful and new, or one more dream… that I cannot make true.”
Together, the music and lyrics in “City of Stars,” encapsulate the musical that is La La Land.
These five songs are all introduced early on in the film. Without spoiling plot points for those who have yet to see the movie, they are deconstructed and woven into major moments throughout the entire film. The notes and melodies are familiar as the story goes on, allowing you to feel how they made you feel when you first heard them; allowing you to familiarize yourself with music and moment. With a hopeful moment comes “Someone in the Crowd,” with romance “Mia and Sebastian’s theme” plays out, the notes of “City of Stars” wander in and out of scenes without you even realizing. The element the score brings to this picture is on a level of its own. Without it, this may just be another movie about life and love, but with it, you feel every single thing they set out to make you feel.
La La Land deserves all the praise it’s receiving. In a world where it’s easy to settle for reality, it encourages you to chase your dreams and find what will fulfill you the most in the end.
Listen to La La Land on iTunes / Spotify
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