TL;DR – La La Land has its issues, but it was such a joy to watch and I walked out of the cinema with a smile on my face and a song in my heart, and I can’t remember the last movie to do that to me.
Score – 4 out of 5 stars
La La Land is a rare movie for these days, not only is it a live-action musical in an age where musicals are mostly restricted to animated children’s movies (with the odd Les Misérables to change things up), but it is also is an unapologetic homage to the films of the classical era, your Singin’ in the Rain and such like. However on top of all this, La La Land is also a very modern movie set in modern times, so at its core is this juxtaposition of old and new. Now this is a very difficult tightrope to manage, if you go too old the film will feel dated rather than the homage it is, and indeed if you go too new, then all those call-backs start to feel gimmicky and forced. Luckily for La La Land, it turns out to be the goldilocks of filmmaking, and a case study in getting that balance right, look there is a reason it is an Oscar favourite for many.
La La Land starts off in a very traditional way, boy meets girl, boy aggressively honks his horn at girl to move her car, girl gives boy the finger, and boy drives off in a huff … you know that classic. Well, it actually starts off with one of the best musical numbers I have seen in a very long time with a beautiful single shot (well it is not an actual single shot, but that’s semantics) along a Los Angeles highway overpass. This sets the tone for the rest of the movie, it is an old school musical number dropped into a very uplifting setting, it is full of joy but there is also some sadness there as well. This is also where we met our protagonists Mia (Emma Stone) an aspiring actress who works in a coffee shop on the Warner Brothers movie lot in between auditions and Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) an out of work pianist with a dream of opening a jazz club. They both have dreams for the future, but they both have been stomped on by people in the process, it’s a very relatable story and immediately allows you to connect with the characters. Like the recent Gilmore Girls revival, La La Land is structured into seasons as we follow our protagonists throughout their lives, from the highs to the lows, to the spontaneous musical numbers, to the breakdown of the fundamentals of jazz and everything in between.
Where La La Land excels is in these callbacks to old Hollywood films, but unlike Hail Caesar! which has a similar style and is treading over similar territory, La La Land takes those classic film techniques and drops them into this very modern movie. It was honestly refreshing to see a filmmaker commit to a type of filmmaking that many people in the devolvement process probably argued was out of style, or just not something you do anymore. For example, when you have two people spot each other in a crowd, you have all the lights go out bar the one on each of them so we can know that their focus is not on the crowd or event but on each other. These days it would probably be down with a zoom, or focus pull, so as to not take you out of it, but these are classic techniques for a reason. Now for a musical it lives or dies on its songs and choreography and here is another area that La La Land excels. From its great choreography by Mandy Moore, she really knows her stuff, to the excellent music by Justin Hurwitz brings a real warmth and joy to the film.
When it comes to the cast, well when you have Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone as your two main leads, you know you already have a great film in your hands as they could turn even a poor script into something grand, but when you give them a good script they shine, indeed one of the moments in the film you just have to let pass is that Emma didn’t nail that audition at the start. But more than this both Ryan Gosling & Emma Stone had to show their ability to sing and dance and for Ryan also the ability to play a mean piano, and here once again they knock it out of the park. I think my favourite would have to be City of Stars because it made Los Angeles actually interesting to visit for a moment, which is quite a feat.
However, La La Land is not a perfect film, and some of that comes down to the story, [Spoiler] once you strip away all the classic Hollywood overlay the story is really quite by the numbers, there are no real plot points you can’t see coming a mile away, it only really shifts gears in the ending [Spoiler End]. As well as this, there were some odd issues like times where the camera seemed to go out of focus for a moment. Also, I feel this will be a film that will either grab you or not and if it doesn’t it’s going to be a long haul to get through it, like the gentlemen at my viewing that resorted to watching the football on his phone. Though of course, these are mostly minor criticisms on what is a really good film.
In the end, should you go see La La Land, well for some of you out there you won’t get a choice as you are dragged to it, but for those who do, yes, yes you should. It has a strong cast, great music and it makes the most out of its setting, and I walked out of the cinema with a smile on my face and a song in my heart, and I can’t remember the last movie to do that to me
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
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Directed by – Damien Chazelle
Written by – Damien Chazelle
Music by – Justin Hurwitz
Cinematography by – Linus Sandgren
Starring – Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, John Legend, Rosemarie DeWitt & J. K. Simmons
Rating – Australia: M; Canada: PG; NZ: M; UK: 12A; USA: PG-13