La La Land

Mia (Emma Stone) is a struggling actress/barista trying to make it in Hollywood, but is seemingly stuck in an endless loop of bad auditions. Seb (Ryan Gosling) is a pianist who dreams of opening his own jazz club but trapped playing Christmas tunes in a bar. A chance meeting in a bar, and then again at a party see the two of them embark on a relationship. Song and dance numbers ensue.

La La Land’s director, Damien Chazelle, seems to be disgustingly talented. Most directors would be pleased to pull off Chazelle’s previous film, the 2015 jazz noodling drumfest Whiplash, but then to go ahead and follow that up with something as good and downright accomplished as La La Land seems almost unfair. La La Land is a charming film, that feels like a love letter to the good old days of the Hollywood musical and if you believe certain reviews this is single-handedly responsible for bringing the musical genre back from the dead. I love La La Land, there I’ve said it, but I really think Disney might have something to say about musicals ever having died. What La La Land does is take a new look at musicals, mixing the old with a hint of newer indie sensibilities, but at its heart it is unashamedly a musical (well for the first two-thirds of the film anyway).

The film opens with a wonderfully old-fashioned musical number on a busy Los Angeles freeway and really runs with it. The film might tick a number of tropes of the genre but they just work, this doesn’t ever feel like it’s descended into pastiche or even a tribute act. I felt like the film had a sense of familiarity but at the same time it managed to be very original. There are some new twists on things that you might have seen before but at the same Chazelle is not afraid to embrace the slightly more corny elements of this kind of film, for example, there’s a scene where Mia and Seb are literally dancing amongst the stars.

This brings me on to one of the big reasons that the film is such a success, for me. The chemistry between the two leads, Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, is really very good. They’ve got previous form, having been equally charismatic in Crazy Stupid Love and they were also probably the best things in Gangster Squad. The two of them just seem to have a natural chemistry that oozes charm and charisma. It would be very easy to dismiss Emma Stone as doing a very cliched role, the girl who comes to Hollywood with big dreams but doesn’t quite make it. In fact her character in Gangster Squad had done exactly that, but there is so much more to Mia than a two-dimensional cliche. Emma Stone manages to inject a lot of depth and emotion to Mia. The song she does during her audition (also called Audition) was one of the high-points on a soundtrack that consists of a significant number of high-points, although I expect it will be covered to death in the next few years and I’ll grow to resent it. Ryan Gosling does what he does as Seb very well, again he’s infinitely charming and provides a well-rounded and believable character. Ryan Gosling might not be quite as good of a singer as Emma Stone and he’s not the world’s greatest dancer but boy can he wear a suit. Actually, that’s unfair. Gosling is the artistic heart of the film as someone torn between being true to his art and cashing in for the greater good.

As is probably apparent I Lo Lo Loved La La Land. There is so much to admire in the film and it is beautifully realised in a gorgeous palette of primary colours; a refreshing change in the face of so many brown/grey gritty superhero films. The film is visually stunning and manages to give Hollywood a beautiful and vibrant look and feel. Things that sounds like they shouldn’t be anything other than cheesy cliches (like the opening number on a freeway) just work so well. Technically speaking the film is a marvel. So much of the film is done in long, wonderfully crafted takes to the point where I was looking for the cuts and edits but I couldn’t find any. It’s a massive technical achievement.

I think the biggest qualm I had with the film was that after a strong opening half the songs seem to die off and the film forgets it’s a musical. I wish that there had been a bit more of a commitment to being a musical.

I would say that this is a great film, that is just charming from start to finish. That’s not to say that this is an entirely upbeat and feel-good film. I think some of the final scenes are some of the most heart-breaking I’ve seen for a little while, but I think that makes everything that has gone before that little bit more interesting. In fact the final scenes that I’m talking about would have been a superb short film in their own right.

La La Land is great, it’s a breath of fresh air showing you something that is comfortably familiar while also being incredibly original. I would wholeheartedly recommend it even if you are not a huge fan of musicals.

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