La La Land

Posted: January 16, 2017 in Film reviews
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Directed by Damien Chazelle. Starring Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone.

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Anything you can do…

Aspiring actress Mia (Stone) and jazz pianist Seb (Gosling) initially meet on a crowded Los Angeles highway, flipping each other off after Mia doesn’t move off fast enough when the traffic starts moving again. Later that day Mia attends a soul destroying audition. Despite not being really interested she accepts the invitation of her housemates to go to a swanky Hollywood party. Later on, after finding her car has been towed away, she walks home alone. Passing a club she hears beautiful music and steps inside to catch the end of an improvised jazz solo by Seb. Unfortunately Seb is sacked at that moment by the club owner played by J.K. Simmons (who’d just wanted him to play Christmas tunes) Mia tries to compliment Seb but he ignores her and storms out.

Months later the two bump into each other again, which gives Mia the opportunity to get her own back by teasing him over the covers band he’s forced to play in. After Seb walks her back to her car, the two sing about how little chemistry they have, whilst the opposite is plainly true. Meeting up again the two soon become lovers, but as time passes how will their romance endure when compromise and success come calling?

 

There was a point, I’m not sure when, maybe a third of the way through La La Land, when I realised I was smiling. A moment later I realised I’d probably been smiling for some time, and I kept smiling pretty much right to the end, even if that smile became somewhat bittersweet at times. Sometimes everyone tells you a film is great and you can only be disappointed, but sometimes the hype isn’t hype, it’s the truth.

Believe the hype, because La La Land is wonderful. The first thing I said after it finished was “That’s the best film I’ve seen in a long time.”

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I think I probably had a similar expression on my face watching this film

The plot of the film is nothing particularly new, it’s an old story of people with dreams who fall in love and have to deal with what happens to that love when it looks like their dreams may come true, but what makes this film so special is the execution of that well-worn idea, much as a jazz musician can make something brand new out of the same set of notes.

From its cinemascope opening titles to its glorious The End this is a film that harks back to a golden era of film making. It’s a cinema literate film, but not in a snobbish way, not in that Tarantino ‘look how clever I am’ kind of way. La La Land doesn’t want to one up you, La La Land is a film that says “Do you like movies? I like movies too”. The LA locations speak to this love of film; Mia works in a coffee shop on the Warner Brothers lot, the two of them visit Griffith Observatory, scene of many films. The film has a bright colour palette of the kind you found in classic musicals of days of yore, and of course it’s a musical.

And yet. Much like the jazz band Seb ends up playing for that’s trying to do something new with jazz, there’s something very modern about this film.

Writer/director Chazelle is 31, and this is his third film, yet he directs it with such talent and aplomb that you might imagine it’s his twenty third. Every scene is imbued with so much that I suspect it’s a film that will just get better with successive viewings. I haven’t seen a film this well put together since The Artist. A few favourite moments include; the opening dance routine, Seb and Mia’s first song and dance routine, the shot of Mia backlit by movie titles,  Mia gradually pushed towards the back of an audience at one of Seb’s gigs, and of course the final beautiful bitter sweet number. This is a film where even when nothing is going on, something is going on.

I like musicals, but for me the best musicals are those where you forget you’re watching a musical, and La La Land makes you forget very quickly. You’re just watching a great film that happens to feature spontaneous song and dance numbers. Time will tell how catchy the tunes become, but City of Stars is lovely. And sure, Stone and Gosling aren’t the greatest singers/dancers in the world (but that’s kinda the point and their less than perfect performance just serves to reinforce the idea that they’re regular people).

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Two great actors, two great performances

However good Chazelle’s script and direction are, let’s not forget the two fantastic performances at the heart of the film. Emma Stone is simply wonderful here. Her girl next door, innocent charm serves her admirably, but should not in any way obscure what a truly great actress she genuinely is. Her auditions we see at the very start and end of the film, when she’s acting at acting, are fantastic, and you believe every word she says, every emotion she shows. Gosling is similarly an actor at the top of his game, imbuing Seb with genuine passion for jazz and genuine love for Mia. He has a natural laid back cool yet deftly shows us the comic timing he used to such good effect in The Nice Guys. And the chemistry between them feels utterly natural, and incredibly charming, right from the off.

The film works on so many levels it’s almost impossible to count. It’s a love letter to LA, a love letter to dreamers, a love letter to films (and especially musicals) and jazz and to roads not taken and, when it comes right down to it, a love letter to love, and yet it’s never mawkish, it treats love realistically in a way that reminded me of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (another gorgeous film featuring two wonderful central performances and another film that never tries to peddle the notion that true love necessarily lasts forever.)

It’s magical, joyful, uplifting, bittersweet, genuinely heart-breaking in places and whilst I think it’s too early to suggest it’s going to be my favourite film of 2017, I’ll be amazed if it doesn’t end up in my top five. I think it’s fair to say that I’m Ga Ga for La La (Land).

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Comments
  1. I was put off by it being a musical, but everyone loves it so much, I might have to give it a go.

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