La La Land

La La Land (2016)
La La Land poster Rating: 8.5/10 (165,257 votes)
Director: Damien Chazelle
Writer: Damien Chazelle
Stars: Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, Amiée Conn, Terry Walters
Runtime: 128 min
Rated: PG-13
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Musical
Released: 25 Dec 2016
Plot: A jazz pianist falls for an aspiring actress in Los Angeles.

There’s an important thing to note before you go to watch La La Land – if you hate musicals, then chances are you are going to give up pretty early on into the film.  However, if you can accept spontaneous outburst of song so long as it serves the tale, then you are in for a treat!

Much has been said about La La Land, with critics falling over themselves to praise it, and the multiple award nominations the film has received to date, which would all suggest a film of supreme magnitude.  However, I recall similar praise being levied at The Artist in the past, so was still a tad sceptical when finally getting around to watching the film.  So many people had built it up for me, that I was certain I would be disappointed.  However, much to my surprise I actually found that those who recommended it hadn’t even scratched the surface of what made it so good.  They had mentioned the catchy tunes, the great lead roles, the wonderful support cast, the framing, etc.  But it seemed nobody had bothered to mention the sheer emotion of the film, or how I would be close to tears by the end – some of joy, some of sorrow, but tears nonetheless.

The film focusses on Mia (Emma Stone), a coffee shop worker who desires to become an actress, and Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), a jazz musician with dreams of owning his own jazz bar.  They initially encounter each other via a couple of frustrated encounters, but over the course of the film they grow close and fall in love.  But can their love survive the pressure of ambition and fame in a town known from stripping away hopes and breaking dreams?

The pairing of Stone and Gosling works so beautifully.  The pair sizzle with emotional intensity on screen together, whether they are antagonising one another, or circling around in flirtatious manner.  Gosling, normally known for brooding roles has done well in the past year to remind the world of his lighter side (The Nice Guys last year a prime example), and here he gets to play both aspects.  Stone conveys a believability as an aspiring actress, struggling to make ends meet but trying to remain positive.  On the musical numbers the duo shine with simple choreography that never feels forced or laboured, and sits well in the moment of the film.  The remaining cast of characters are but fleeting entries to the tale of this pair, never taking the spotlight from the leads, but adding some nice background to the events.

The striking colour palette on offer really makes the film shine.

With regards the music and dances, they are a marvellous nod back to the mid twentieth century musicals, with clothing, set design, and choreography to fit that earlier period, even though the story is set in a more modern, contemporary setting.  The effect is to make the piece seem timeless, which will certainly benefit the film in the future as it will age so much better as a result.  However, don’t expect a film packed with songs.  The first half certainly has a fair share, but then, in the latter half, there is a fair chunk in which the musical numbers lessen, and standard filmmaking takes over – although given the aspect of the story this part conveys, it actually seems to make more sense for the ‘fantasy’ to diminish.

Director Damien Chazelle follows his 2014 hit Whiplash with a further delving into music (and especially jazz), and the emotional impact it can have.  In Whiplash it was all about how music affects the artist, in this film it is a tool to affect the audience.  With plenty of great musical numbers within, and telling a beautiful tale of life, love, ambition, fame and regret, all aided by a really strong cast, La La Land is a joy to behold, and another early highlight for this year.


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