La La Land
Off the back of the rip-roaring success garnered for Whiplash, Damien Chazelle has cashed in pretty much all of it so he can take a crack at that increasingly rare beast; a successful Hollywood musical and his attempt comes in the form of La La Land.
Being very recently converted from my original opinion that there wasn’t really such a thing as a musical I wanted anything to do with, to a more nuanced stand-point of actually liking a few, so long as it wasn’t “all singing” (WHY are you singing that there is someone at the door, we heard the knock, just go and answer the bloody door!!!!, *and breathe*), he would have his work cut out with me. Having seen the film, I can now categorically state that it’s a wonderful, elegant, and sophisticated piece of film-making, and I loved it.
We open on a song and dance number on a gridlocked L.A. freeway, and what a sunny, brightly coloured and, if I’m honest, strangely nostalgic way to start a film. From here we’re soon introduced to our main protagonists for what is to come, Mia and Sebastian, played by Emma Stone (The Amazing Spiderman, Birdman) and Ryan Gosling (The Nice Guys, The Big Short). She is an aspiring actress, and he’s a struggling jazz pianist. They both have dreams, and aspirations, and the film goes about exploring if they can have it all, whilst painting a canvas that celebrates Hollywood at its finest, but also, at times, its most crushing.
Having been out in the States for a while now, a lot of the buzz around this film has centred on it being a real love-letter to Hollywood of old, which is a very valid point to make. Every scene is meticulously framed, and every costume is bright, and almost unfeasibly colour-matched to the mood of the moment. There is a running theme throughout the film where we can gauge the path of our characters by the seasons being flashed up on the screen, with the constant conceit that as it’s L.A. the seasons never change. The feeling of nostalgia is palpable, but never overwhelming, and done with such love and care you end up swept along for the ride. The story is also crafted to be sweet, funny and emotionally resonant, and all involved bring these elements to live with care and intensity.
The cast are almost flawless, although, with the exception of our main players, have little or no depth. This merely underlines the strength of the central pairing. Stone and Gosling are now on their third movie together and the chemistry shows no sign of dropping off. Personally I can sometimes find Gosling a little too wooden in some performances, but he and Stone spark off each other in every scene they share. As good as Gosling is, it’s Stone that truly shines. From the intensity she brings whilst acting an actress auditioning, to the warmth in her interactions with her co-star, she does not put a foot wrong. There is one scene at the end of the film where all the emotion of a key scene is done with no words, only with expression, and it’s heart-wrenching and wonderful to watch.
The only other small point I want to add to my thoughts on our leads was how joyful it was to watch their dancing. The choreography and little flourishes that all the cast bring to these set-pieces are at times so subtle you might miss them, but it brings you right back to the heyday of big screen dance numbers, and you are left feeling that this is something that the world of film has been doing without for far too long.
I suppose I should also mention the music on show too. Chazelle is obviously on a one man crusade to make Jazz popular again. After the intensity of Whiplash, this is a far more subtle and sentimental introduction, and as his characters fall in love with each other, Sebastian encourages Mia, and through her, us the audience, to fall in love with his passion too. It’s a very specific refrain that he plays on the piano that draws her to him to begin with, and this is reprised throughout the movie, adding a narrative and auditory thread that winds its way around the screenplay sewing the whole thing together. The songs are well performed, and feel emotionally resonant and touching, bringing joy and melancholy whenever the story needs it.
Directorially the film is a triumph. Some of the shots frame Los Angeles in a way that only someone in love with movie-making could, taking us to iconic land-marks from Hollywood classics so we can fall in love with those movies all over again. There is one musical number at the end of the film that is breathtaking in its directorial scope, showing almost the whole movie again during its runtime, and making you wish it could just keep on going. This is all Chazelle, and he deserves plaudits not only for his work on the film, but for believing in his vision and taking the chance to do this in the first place.
La La Land is essentially a movie about how the smallest of choices can change your life in big ways, and it tells this in the biggest, most lavish and possibly the most heart-felt way it could. Everyone here is on the top of their game from the cast to the crew, and the director, and the movie has such a fresh take on nostalgia and love for the industry it is part of that you’ll have to have a cold, hard heart to not at least smile for a while as you leave the cinema. Those with a softer side may find the thrills, spills, and wonderfully warm humour have delivered a new classic to love for years to come.
- a bold and ambitious project.
- an excellent cast, who are on form.
- wonderful music and themed reprise throughout.
- a confident and brave ending.
- supporting characters with no depth.
- mentioning Kenny G.