Behold, one of the biggest critical darlings of the year, and the almost certain slot-in for Best Picture winner. Does it deserve all this praise? Yes. Oh god, yes.
La La Land is a comedy/drama musical written and directed by Damien Chazelle (Whiplash). It stars Emma Stone as Mia, an aspiring actress living in Los Angeles who meets jazz-pianist Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) and strike up a fast romance that escalates to each other inspiring one another to chase their dreams – for Mia to become a famous actress and for Sebastian to start his own jazz club.
To start with the boring stuff, the film is technical perfection. The music, set design, editing, visuals, basically everything is cinematic magic and almost without fault. The opening musical number is a sight to behold and a genuine ‘movie moment’©, and from there the set pieces may grow smaller, but never lesser. Everything from a casual conversation on the streets of LA to a ravishing party is shot with passion and flair by Chazelle, who is all out to prove that Whiplash was not a fluke. The film is imbued to its very heart with jazz and a deep love for the classic Hollywood musicals of the 50s and 60s. This could almost act as a modern companion piece to arguably the greatest musical of all time Singin’ in the Rain, as the film very much feels torn between two eras – the starry-eyed rose-tinted period of Hollywood’s classical age and the jaded but somewhat optimistic time of today. There is much to consider in what Chazelle is trying to say about our nostalgia for years past and while the film may look back longingly, its gaze remains transfixed on the future, unsure but still hopeful, thankful for what came before but excited for what’s to come. This bittersweet double-edged nostalgia is at the core of La La Land‘s production and is honestly what makes the film so personally powerful to me.
Another thing the film share’s in common with Singin’ in the Rain is an incredibly catchy and endearing soundtrack. Its likely to be bursting out of my headphones for years to come, and an incredible feat by composer Justin Hurwitz, who so far has scored every one of Chazelle’s films but nothing more. The previously-mentioned opening song of ‘Another Day of Sun’ is a particular standout, but plenty of the other tracks like ‘City of Stars’ and ‘Someone in the Crowd’ pull their own weight. To some the score may be seen as repetitive due to a number of melodies that permeate throughout, but due to the strength of those cues and how they’re used to enrapture pure joy its hard not to listen with a grin on your face. After an underrated score on Whiplash, Hurwitz will now happily receive the recognition he deserves by concocting the most enchanting part of an already magical movie.
While the performances may not be high on the list of reasons La La Land is a masterpiece, its hard not to talk about how well Stone and Gosling do in the starring roles. The focus tends to skew towards Mia and Emma Stone here portrays much of the charm and charisma seen in previous roles like Easy A and even The Amazing Spiderman, but here its done with a new level of heart and dedication. This is helped along by wonderful chemistry with co-star Gosling who as far as I’m concerned just adds another fantastic performance to his already weighty filmography. Apparently learning to play piano over several months for this film, who wouldn’t know he’s a newcomer by the way Gosling commands the spotlight every time its his, and just further proves he is far and beyond one of the best actors working in Hollywood today. My only minor quibble is that their voices aren’t incredibly strong – not Russel Crowe rough, but they’re no Hugh Jackman – but the gusto they deliver their lyrics helps sell the authenticity behind their performance even if it isn’t going to win any talent shows. There are a few other minor supporting roles, but the focus is almost purely on this duo and the raw romance and chemistry they convey improves an already stellar screenplay to something worthy of Gazelle’s ambitions.
In all honestly, La La Land might quite possibly be one of the greatest musicals of all time. It stands next to the likes of Singin’ in the Rain and Mary Poppins proudly, its shoulders carrying the weight of all musicals that came before, a titan for future creators to look to and hopefully overcome. Gazelle was clearly not content making one of my favourite films of this decade, so now he’s decided to make two. Anyone who struggles with musicals need not apply, but all who still believe in movie magic, nostalgia and good old-fashioned singing numbers will likely be enchanted by this stupendous masterpiece that is lighting up screens around the world.
General Audiences: Highly Recommended
Film Buffs: Must-see
For more of my thoughts on La La Land and why its so awesome, feel free to check out my inner ramblings about the meaning behind the film here.
Winner of the 2016 Batsie Awards for Untouchable and The Winning Edge.