La La Land
Directed by: Damien Chazelle
Written by: Damien Chazelle
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, John Legend, Rosemarie DeWitt
Every once in a while, a film comes along that is, in every sense of the word, outstanding. And, unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ll have heard that this awards’ season, that film is Damien Chazelle’s La La Land. After a year as ruthless as 2016, this bright and joyful story is a welcome reminder that it isn’t all bad and that it’s possible to draw on successful classic films without simply remaking them (something that the majority of Hollywood doesn’t seem to understand).
In the story, we see two young hopefuls living in Los Angeles as they try to make their show business dreams come true. Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) is a talented and charming pianist, who is single-handedly trying to keep jazz music alive, while Mia (Emma Stone) is a young actress, taking any audition she can to try and make it onto the big screen. And while these characters are not unique in the musical genre in which La La Land falls, Chazelle has managed to take what would be a classic story, and turn it into a modern masterpiece. Channelling the Golden Age musicals of such MGM greats as Gene Kelly and Debbie Reynolds, this film refreshes a genre that had been presumed dead for decades, as an outdated format that modern audiences simply wouldn’t enjoy and it does so by being able to balance comedy and drama in a way that holds the audience’s attention throughout.
A particular triumph in La La Land is the casting – in particular it leads, Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling. Admittedly, these names are not the first you think of when imagining a movie musical, however, they were perfectly suited. The latest of many outings for this particular duo, they came with ready-made chemistry, which played out beautifully on screen, be it through drama, dance or song. Positively enchanting, the two lead us on a merry song and dance, as they inhabit a present-day L.A. with the classic charm that one would expect to find in the original musicals associated with the genre. Gosling and Stone take us on an emotional journey, and from drama to comedy, we’re shown all the range that these talented actors can muster, making their performances all the more enjoyable to watch, as they become three-dimensional characters who grow and change as the story progresses.
Lavish set pieces, beautiful cinematography and bright, bold colouring, every single frame of this film seems to be a work of art, carefully crafted and precisely organised so that the eye of the audience is drawn to every single sumptuous detail from the wide city shots to the dramatic close-ups and everything in between. Chazelle also brings back an almost forgotten style of directing, in which the camera moves as the eye would, putting the audience right in the centre of the scene, and panning as though to show us all that is unfolding around us. And though this directing style would not work for the majority of genres out there, it fits perfectly within this musical, like a kind of high-budget stage performance playing out right in front of our eyes, even going so far as to include a magical dream sequence.
It would be impossible to talk about La La Land without mentioning the positively amazing original soundtrack that accompanies it. After the success he had with the music in 2014’s Whiplash, Justin Hurwitz has once again struck gold with this film. The soundtrack (already at #1 in iTunes’ album chart after its December release) features both wonderfully emotional tracks like ‘City of Lights’ and ‘Audition’ courtesy of the film’s leads, as well as more modern jazz tracks such as ‘Start A Fire’ sung by John Legend in his role as Keith, an old friend of Sebastian’s, and a successful musician not unlike Legend himself. Much like the story and direction, this soundtrack manages to seamlessly blend different genres transporting the audience through time with songs that make you want to get up and dance in the cinema and sing at the top of your lungs without a care in the world.
Taking all of this into account, it’s not hard to see why La La Land has already won so many awards and is tipped to win even more. A welcome return to a simpler time, this film leaves you smiling from ear to ear as an instant classic that you can watch again and again without tiring of it. In simple terms – go and see this film, you won’t regret it.
5 stars – though frankly, I’d give it all the stars if I could.