If there was one film in 2016 that stood out – regardless of whether or not it was actually better than all others- it had to be La La Land. I mean, it set a new record for ‘most Oscar nominations hogged by one damn film and my god I got sick of hearing it’. Following his success with 2014’s fantastic ‘Whiplash’, Damien Chazelle decided that he couldn’t leave the Oscars OR jazz music alone. No, it was time to resurrect jazz and more ‘young dreamers in the big, bad world’ once more, but this time with that kid from Goosebumps and Wichita from Zombieland. I mean, Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone. So with all the hype, all the nominations and all the young people falling head over heels with goo-goo eyes at the very mention of its name, is La La Land really the fairytale film we’ve been dreaming of? Or is this actually a waking nightmare?
Directed by Damien Chazelle (Whiplash), La La Land tells the story of Seb (Ryan Gosling – The Nice Guys) and Mia (Emma Stone – Birdman); a jazz pianist and an aspiring actress who cross paths and fall in love in the magical world of showbiz – Los Angeles. Minus the homeless people. However, in the vein of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and 500 Days of Summer, La La Land decides to ride the line between reality and fantasy with a more realistic love story that is caught up in the magical power of chasing a dream. Personally I’m a real sucker for this type of romantic storytelling because it’s so much closer to reality than just the warm and fuzzies, but that’s not to say they aren’t here. No no, there’s plenty of light-heartedness in La La Land, enough in fact that the film strikes a curious balance of tones that really gives it a dreamlike quality.
Gee, don’t you just hate it when you’re so beautiful that everyone else literally fades into darkness around you?
First off, La La Land is a *seriously* stunning spectacle to behold for any fan of cinema or musical theatre. It’s as big and peppy as any Broadway show could dream to be, and it’s underscored with an incredible soundtrack. The Guys and Dolls (he says, laughing geekily) in La La Land dance to loud music while wearing equally loud clothes, and all of this is done to expert choreography that is very reminiscent of classic era Hollywood musicals. I’m not the first (or the last) to point out the obvious references that La La Land holds to it’s *obvious* inspirations, but that’s really quite okay. La La Land acts as a rebirth of the classics that only a niche audience remember (or love) and reintroduces it to a contemporary world. There’s even a Prius. In this way La La Land is refreshing, because there really is nothing else quite like it in modern cinema, and for making ‘classical’ musicals ‘cool’ again I can’t give Damien Chazelle and Co. enough credit.
“Okay Emma I’ll dance again but this time YOU have to be Ginger Rogers.”
Now if you’re not a fan of musicals NEVER FEAR! For La La Land is not a musical in the sense that most shy away at the sound of (literally). While it is underpinned with a killer soundtrack, multiple musical moments and dance sequences, Damien Chazelle has smartly edged La La Land along as a hybrid between typical movie and all out Broadway show. Where the masterful 2012 Les Miserables film was almost entirely sung from top to tail, La La Land is more of a dramatic love story that stops for some wicked cool song and dance numbers – but not in a Disney way. Speaking of drama, major props should be given to Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone who both give excellent performances here. Emma Stone’s Mia is the quintessential ‘starry eyed girl’ who’s come to L.A looking for her big break, and Stone gives her role a good balance of hopefulness and self-doubt. Meanwhile Gosling’s Seb is a man just south of the border of ‘elitist jazz musician douchebag’. Yes, only Ryan Gosling could pull off someone so passionate and kinda dickish without showing off much of the dickish part. Not to discount Mia (or Emma Stone’s Oscar winning work), but I did find Seb to be more compelling as he undergoes a clear arc from beginning to end, while Mia more or less remains the same. Ultimately excellent, great chemistry, but every rose has its thorn. More on that later.
As anyone who’s seen Drive will tell you, always fear a Gosling in stylised lighting. FEAR THE WELL PREPARED DINNER! FEAR IT!
Music. Music, music, music, music. It makes the world go round and it certainly makes La La Land go round a whole lot more. If there is one clear standout about this movie, I would bypass acting, directing and choreography to say that the soundtrack is the definite star of this show. Taking home an Oscar win for their work, Justin Hurwitz and team have created one of the best original soundtracks of all time, one that I’d argue could contend with the likes of any Broadway musical. Yes, it’s really that good. La La Land has tracks that had my theatre giving thunderous applause both times I saw it, and I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t a biblical fight for the soundtrack stock at JB HI-FI afterwards. Anchorman car park fights for soundtracks aside, La La Land really is a beautiful masterwork of musical composition with original songs that are catchy and heartfelt and scoring that is powerful, moving and toe-tappingly good. I can’t praise this highly enough.
See for yourself in this clip of La La Land‘s ‘Someone in the Crowd‘ – what a number.
It’s here that I will say ‘somehow kinda spoiler alert’. Because what I’m about to say is NOT a spoiler in any way, but if you would like the most uninhibited, completely open experience of La La Land, maybe do a Price Humperdink and ‘skip to the end’. Bonus points for anyone who got that.
Our final stop on the La La Land hype train is a little station I like to call ‘who hurt you, Damien Chazelle?-ville’. Like all good love stories there are always a few wrinkles, and La La Land gives us a few Tommy Lee Jones sized ones that seemed almost too expertly crafted, in that I couldn’t help but wonder if Chazelle was still working out some old wounds. Without ruining the ride for you I’ll just say that there is a certain air of selfishness that afflicts this relationship in a way that I think has gone unnoticed by the more ‘lovestruck’ of La La Land’s fans. Surely this has to have bothered Chazelle, as certain moments at the climax of the film seem to have been specifically engineered yet completely overlooked by some who are adopting La La Land as their ‘dream romance’. To anyone afflicted with ‘La La Land lovesickness’ I simply ask that you do this: switch the lead character’s genders and then ask yourself how much a modern audience would revile some of the scenes in this film. Now please seek medical attention quickly before you get your hearts broken like an overpriced crystal statue in the hands of an unguarded toddler. However this is less of a fault in the film and more a fault in its reception- as anyone who was not blind to this would have (I imagine) better enjoyed the story Chazelle meant to tell from beginning to end. Assuming I’m ‘pickin’ up what you’re puttin’ down’, Damien, I honestly loved the story of La La Land for both its dreaminess and painful realism.
Ryan and Emma rewatch the exact moment that Damien Chazelle’s heart broke on national television.
So all-in-all La La Land is a spectacle that always dreamt of seeing its name in lights, and it achieved that dream. Damien Chazelle delivers yet another film that has weight and charisma, all the while managing to revitalise both classic musical cinema and jazz music (boy, you do like jazz don’t ya, Damien?) all in one fell swoop. La La Land is led by two fantastic actors who’s performances are toppy dollar, and is backed by a soundtrack so good it makes you instantly want to see the film again. While some might overlook some of the realistic implications in La La Land, altogether this is a very grounded love story that walks in and out of the thin veil of dreams to deliver an excellent story of shooting for the stars and risking catching them. A bombastically ‘fresh’ film that even the Oscars couldn’t ignore, La La Land is a must see.
*Totally not listening to the La La Land soundtrack rn*
La La Land high steps its way to a tap-dancingly good 97/100 – that’s an A!
Way to go, Chazelle. You saved jazz and Fred Astaire’s wardrobe for one more decade.
La La Land is available on Digital now at Entertainment One‘s website and DVD/Blu-Ray from May 3rd.
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