Damien Chazelle blew onto the mainstream circuit with Whiplash two years ago, an excellent film about the passion of musicians, with great performances from Miles Teller and JK Simmons. After writing the script for the lauded 10 Cloverfield Lane in 2016, all eyes were on him for what he would produce this year.
La La Land stars Emma Stone, Ryan Gosling, John Legend and Rosemarie DeWitt and is directed by Damien Chazelle. The film follows an aspiring actress (Stone) and a jazz musician (Gosling) in Los Angeles who meet one day and fall in love.
You don’t see many musicals these days. After a certain Golden Period in Hollywood, musicals were quickly picked up by Disney. But seeing as the House Of Mouse are now aiming for more standard animation (along with remaking their classics) it falls to new talent to bring back the musical. And Damien Chazelle has made La La Land a smash hit.
The film starts with a song and dance number along the LA freeway, setting the stage for the old-school romance that is going to unfold. It’s an excellent opening, with hundreds of extras dancing on the roofs of cars. And due to some excellent cinematography by Linus Sandgren and editing by Tom Cross it all looks like it’s done in one sweeping shot. All the dance numbers are done in a similar way, all being performed in a couple or sometimes one long take with the performers dancing around the entire set. It’s the sort of performance that makes you want to give the film a standing ovation.
The songs and music were all done by Justin Hurwitz (who worked previously with Chazelle on Whiplash) and certainly deserve the high praise it has been given. Jumping from the melancholic piano solos to upbeat trumpets and saxophones to a full orchestra in the final act, it’s a film that needs not only to be seen, but to be heard in the cinema.
The two leads, Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, are perfectly cast in the film. We see Stone get shunted from audition to audition, showing the brutality of casting directors. Her soliloquy that we see her practising early on the film is performed in one take and is masterful show-off of her acting ability. Gosling is his usual quiet but passionate self and their chemistry is electric. When they perform together you get this sense that they are channelling the great Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, they are perfectly in sync and react well to each other.
La La Land is set in the present, but its whole shtick is an affinity for the yesteryear of Los Angeles. The film name-checks and references a lot of the films from the Golden Age of Hollywood. Stone and Gosling talk about Casablanca and go watch Rebel Without a Cause, their dance numbers have inflections of Singin’ In The Rain, and they obviously pay homage to the previously mentioned Astaire and Rogers with their tap-dancing duet. It never feels like they overshadow the actual film though. The references are there for those who know them and don’t distract or make the film seem like it is showing off (much like how I thought Hail, Caesar or Café Society did).
If there were any misgivings I had they would be the age rating. The film has a 12A for infrequent strong language. It’s so sporadic that it seems a bit jarring when it’s used and it’s annoying that the film has been bumped up to a 12A when it could easily be a U and fun for all the family with its great song and dance numbers. Another small nit-pick, the second half takes a little time going, but that maybe due to the fantastic dance number that precedes it, knocking a bit of the wind out of the film’s sails for the second act.
In the end, La La Land deserves all the praise you’ve been hearing about it. Everything from the cast, to the songs, to the choreography to the cinematography and the overall vibe is astounding. This is definitely not one to miss.
Score: 10/10 A superb, swinging, sexy dream of a film.