La La Land
A jazz pianist falls for an aspiring actress in Los Angeles.
During one of the first dates in a jazz bar between Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling’s characters, Gosling says of the music: “It’s dying. It’s had its time. Well not on my watch.” It’s a line which perfectly echoes director Damien Chazelle’s own sentiments towards the movies of yesteryear, with La La Land being his love letter to such films.
The story follows Seb (Gosling), an ambitious jazz pianist who is constantly restricted in his mundane gig at an unappreciative bar. After failing to listen to repeated warnings from the venue manager (JK Simmons) to stick to the setlist and bursting into one of many incredible improvisations, he’s fired – but not before being admired by struggling actress/barista Mia (Stone). A chance meeting not long after strikes up a friendship between the two, which quickly turns romantic and from there we see the development of their relationship.
Told in the form of ‘seasons’ (although it doesn’t really make too much of a difference; this is LA, where every day is sunshine), La La Land takes hold from its mightily impressive opening number. Shot largely in one tracking motion along a traffic congested highway, Chazelle brings the 50s to present day while maintaining more than enough originality to appear fresh. There’s references and nods to influences from classic musicals that made La La Land possible littered throughout the film, giving aficionados of the genre something else to look out for.
It’s simple, straightforward storytelling told beautifully through song and dance, none of which ever seem forced or contrived. La La land is so unashamedly OTT that it’s impossible not to be won over by the vibrant musical numbers and piercingly intimate piano pieces, no matter what your prior thoughts to films of this kind are.
The two leads’ chemistry is undeniable, and their performances riveting. Sure, the singing can be a little wobbly at times, but when it matters they hit the mark in every imaginable way. Gosling especially, who already fronts the rock band Dead Mans Bones, impresses and the gloomy tone of his existing music can be heard in his voice during pivotal pieces. Stone’s portrayal of aspiring actress Mia is a career-best,
Their characters are astonishingly relatable too: these are people who dream and doubt, who succeed and fail. Speaking of succeeding, Chazelle explores a theme here seen in his debut feature, Whiplash. What is the cost of success? What must be sacrificed to get to the top? It makes for a noticeably more downbeat second half, a period which seems to abandon the musical aspect in favour of pure drama. The runtime could have done with a little more trimming too – at over two hours long, it certainly isn’t as streamlined as it could have been.
But these are small niggles in a film which does so much right. Even the most cynical and blackened hearts will be warmed by La La Land’s vivid colour palette and its sense of innocence long lost in motion pictures.
In another example of dialogue reflecting the directors own thoughts, , Mia expresses her concerns to Seb while reciting her one woman play by saying: “It feels a little nostalgic to me. Do you think people are going to like it?”
Judging from its seven Golden Globe wins (more than any other picture in history), the answer is as clear as the sky in Los Angeles in the middle of August.
Loving homage to musicals from the golden age of cinema
Sizzling chemistry between Gosling and Stone
Vivid colour palette
Would have benefited from a little more trimming in the editing room
Second half noticeably more drama than musical, changes tone too