Among La La Land's record-tying number of Oscar nominations (that would be 14) it is up for consideration in the "Best Cinematography" category. As if Emma Stone's and Ryan Gosling's performances and the sheer magic of the film weren't enough, it is visually stunning. Perhaps most notable about La La Land's visuals is its pervasive use of the primary colors red, green and blue, as well as yellow which, yes – is technically a secondary color – but not in this movie. From the costumes to the lighting, mise en scène has the strongest supporting role in La La Land.
Some of the film's most important scenes are backlit in green, blue, or red as boldly as the jazz that is a hallmark of its original score. La La Land's most pivotal scenes have a pervasive shade of Vertigo green. There is a green light at Griffith Observatory where Mia and Sebastian share their first kiss and during a dinner where they have one of the biggest arguments of their relationship.
The color red stomps past whatever subtlety it might have into an absolutely unmissable implication of its traditional representation: love and passion. There is red behind Mia when she sees Sebastian for the first time head-to-toe and throughout the bedroom they share after she reads him the play she wrote. Later, when Mia moves out and Seb is in his apartment alone, it is conspicuously free of the red glow; the love is gone and the stark white walls speak volumes.
Even sartorially, colors tell a story in La La Land. In the first half of the film, Mia's wardrobe adheres to green, yellow, blue and red save for the occasional audition outfit or her coffee shop uniform. When she begins dating Sebastian, the primary colors fade into pastel pinks, blues, and even lavender. Mia is not a harsh character, but her world softens as Seb becomes a bigger part of her life and her clothes follow suit.
Near the end of the film, there is a fantasy dance sequence between Mia and Sebastian spliced with a scene between Mia and her husband. In these scenes we see two new colors on Mia for the first time in the entire film – black and white. Both scenes and presumably, both lovers are opposites – one is rooted in fantasy while the other is grounded in reality.
Perhaps the best thing about La La Land is the way you can find new things to focus on each time you watch it. The first time, I focused on the plot. The second time I couldn't ignore the mise en scène. During my third and most recent viewing, I was able to pick up on subtle dialogue like the few lines in one of the final scenes that imply Mia moved from Los Angeles to New York post-Sebastian. As other articles have pointed out, La La Land pays homage to classic films, which perhaps is what I'll focus on the next time I watch it. After all, it is almost impossible to imagine La La Land getting old – it is Singin' in the Rain for the 21st century.
By Kathryn Greene