top of page
  • Writer's pictureStefan

La La Land - Justin Hurwitz - Soundtrack Review

The original idea to talk about Danny Elfman’s score for “Edward Scissorhands”, I skipped after seeing “La La Land”. What a great movie, and what a great score! Therefore, this score will be discussed this week.

The movie

I heard a lot about “La La Land” before finally seeing it. In general, I am not a big fan of watching a musical on screen. I prefer to see them on stage, but I was finally curious to watch it because so many people were talking about it. I did not read any reviews, I never watched a movie of the director or listened to any music of the composer and could not even remember if I ever watched a movie with Emma Stone. Of course, I saw a few movies with Ryan Gosling, e.g. “The Ides of March” (2011) with George Clooney and which I did not like very much, but I loved “The Notebook” (2004), not because of Gosling, more because of Rachel McAdams, and I am still a great fan of her. Therefore, it was just pure curiosity to see it.

Here is a trailer:

Normally it is always a little awkward when you see a movie, and then suddenly the actors start to sing because there is, in general, no reason for doing so. “La La Land” is also different in this aspect. This beginning with standing in the always annoying traffic in Los Angeles, getting tired and bored and then finally start to sing because of you are bored and want to entertain yourself, first slowly, then with more and more passion and finally more people (including a combo playing in a van) are joining you… this was such a great idea and a great beginning!

With this scene, the entertaining music and the passion of the singers to perform this scene, I immediately began to like what I was seeing. I was also immediately caught the score: This is exactly the music I want to hear in a musical, slightly-jazzy, dynamic and fun to listen to, just pure entertainment.

The title “La La Land” refers to the city of Los Angeles, but is also an idiom for being out of touch with reality. Director Damien Chazelle, born 1985, directs with this movie just his second one after “Whiplash” (2014, also about Jazz). He wrote the script 2010, but could not find a studio willing to finance the production. Following the success of “Whiplash”, Chazelle was finally able to do it. Justin Hurwitz, also the composer of “Whiplash”, met Chazelle at Harvard. They were playing in the same band and then became roomies.

In an interview with Hollywoodreporter, Chazelle explained the idea of the movie: ““Now more than ever we need hope and romance on the screen, and I think 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 language of our dreams and movies as a way of expressing a world in which you break into song, that emotions can violate the rules of reality. There is something very poetic about Los Angeles I think, about a city that is built by people with these unrealistic dreams and people who kind of just put it all on the line for that. “

Chazelle admitted that it was a challenge to place a musical in today’s world, but he was able to fall back on the timelessness of classic musicals to find his way. “La La Land” should also be an homage to all the creative people who moved to Los Angeles to chase their dreams”, said the director, and because of that, the film also has numerous visual allusions to Hollywood classics such as “Broadway Melody of 1940”, “Singin' in the Rain”, and “The Band Wagon”.

The music is not only the reason that “La La Land” is so successful, the screenplay is also very well written, and the cast just perfectly fits. The story has a good sense of humour, but also a good amount of sad moments. Emma Stone is just astonishing in her role. For me, the best part is the ending, especially the last minutes of the movie, the “Epilogue” scene. After seeing it, I watched it two weeks later again, and these last minutes touched me even more, really made me almost cry. Well done! This is just great storytelling!

The music

The score is composed and orchestrated by Justin Hurwitz. The soundtrack has 15 tracks and starts with “Another Day of Sun”, the energetic dance number from the opening scene and the only cast song. This first track sets the tone for the rest of the score, the lyrics emphasize the importance of dreaming. This feel-good song is a perfect start of the album and the movie.

The next track “Someone in the crowd” is the second highlight. Music should tell a story, and this song is exactly doing it: “Somewhere there’s a place / Where I find who I’m gonna be / Somewhere that’s just waiting to be found”, perhaps summarize of life as a journey. Emma Stone and her roomies are giving a great and lively performance in the scene in the movie that is just astonishing. Here is the song with scenes of the movie:

Track 3 “Mia & Sebastian's Theme" is a wonderful piano track. This theme is a great balanced piece of music with a melody that you will never forget after you heard it. Track 4 “A Lovely Night” is the next highlight. The music underscores the first real scene between Mia and Sebastian and captures perfectly the playfulness of the relationship, and when suddenly the music breaks out into a tap dancing number, we have one of the best scenes in the movie.

There are two versions of “City of Stars” (track 6, Ryan Gosling alone), and track 9 with Ryan and Emma Stone. This song won the Academy Award for Best Song, and it is highly deserved. Track 12 “Audition (The Fools Who Dreams)” is the last song on the album and the best song of the whole score. When Emma Stone is asked during the audition to tell a story, it becomes the story of her own dreams and disillusions. This scene is the first step to her final success in the end, a magical scene in the movie!

We have a lot of instrument tracks on this score. I already mentioned track 3, but my personal favourites are “Planetarium” (track 7) and especially track 13 “Epilogue” (with some vocals in the end).

We have a lot of instrument tracks on this score. I already mentioned track 3, but my personal favourites are “Planetarium” (track 7) and especially track 13 “Epilogue” (with some vocals in the end).

When I was watching this “Epilogue” scene, an idea came to my mind: German opera composer Richard Wagner created a so-called “Tristan Accord” for his opera “Tristan und Isolde”. An accord consists normally of three notes, and they all have to be played, but because Tristan and Isolde are constantly interrupted when they are together, Wagner did not let all three notes of this accord during the opera until the final scene. Just in the last scene, the death scene, Wagner let the orchestra play the full accord. The music expresses the idea that now the couple is finally together, together in the moment of death.

When you now listen to the last scene and watch how Sebastian plays his melody, I got the impression that he did not play the last note. He did not finish the theme in this scene because he and Mia did not come together in the end…. Might this be true? Happy to get comments about this.

For me, “La La Land” is not only a great feel-good movie, it also tells a wonderful story about two creative people who believed in their dreams. Like each good movie, “La La Land” has also its sad moments, and the last scene is one of the saddest moments I saw recently. Both smile at each other, but you can see they are thinking that they – excuse me – just fucked up their chance to become happy together… is Mia really happy after this scene? I doubt it, her smile is not a real smile. It is the smile you put on your face when you try to hide your tears.

Copyright © Stefan Riedlinger, 2017, all rights reserved. The reviews and other textual content contained on the site may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without the prior written authority of Stefan Riedlinger.

Jerry Goldsmith First Knight.png
Next review...
Latest reviews...
bottom of page