Director: Damien Chazelle
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, John Legend, Rosemary DeWitt, J.K. Simmons, Jason Fuchs, Tom Everett Scott
Written by: Damien Chazelle
Running Time: 128 mins
Release date: 12th January 2017
Sometimes, just sometimes, Hollywood gets the timing absolutely right. In a time of uncertainty and despair within the world, how perfect for a throwback musical that is so unapologetically romantic, so full of joy, to suddenly and almost unexpectedly explode onto the screen. Unexpectedly because this is the kind of film that would have flooded out screens in the 1950’s but not in a time of superhero movies, crass blockbusters and comedies that think by pointing at private parts is funny. This is a film that invites you to embrace it.
Mia is an aspiring actress in Hollywood, working at a coffee shop on the Warner Brothers film lot during the day and auditioning when and where she can. After being dragged to a party so she can network, she leaves and finds herself in a restaurant listening to Seb, a jazz pianist with his own ambitions of opening a jazz club. The pair keeps bumping into each other, not always successfully until love soon takes over.
Whiplash writer and director Damien Chazelle obviously has a love for cinema. He has taken a simple tale of boy meets girl, boy falls in love with girl etc but slips in references from the history of cinema without you even noticing. With that, he has attached this tale to a musical that celebrates not only those from MGM in the 40’s and 50’s but the French New Wave of the 60’s (The Umbrellas of Cherbough) with spectacular effect.
Starting with a cheeky reference to cinemascope (the film opens in Academy format, only to grow in size and colour to a full screen), I found myself grinning like a Cheshire cat within two minutes as the standstill cars on the LA freeway become a stage for a full blown song and dance routine, full of bright colours and stirring orchestrations. You feel you want to stand up and clap by the end of the number. This quickly moves to introducing the two leads protagonists, stuck in that traffic jam but not feeling the love at this point. From then on, we follow this blossoming romance, interspersed with delightful, crowd-pleasing numbers.
Chazelle, who made such a huge impression with Whiplash, has an obvious love for music, especially jazz, and like the drumming drama, here he uses the music to aid with the editing. The beats, tones and rhyme of the tunes guide the speed of the cuts, while also allowing the camera to slow down when need to, in order for us to really appreciate the dance routines and capture the magical romantic feel that these numbers deliver.
The magic is delivered by the two stunning leads who have more chemistry and charm than any pair of actors have any right to have. Ryan Gosling brings that manly man appeal to prove he is more than just mean and moody. As jazz fan Seb, he moves through the film with a smoothness not seen for so long and while watching him hoof away, you can’t help but have the image of Gene Kelly dancing through your head. Emma Stone, is equally good as Mia, the pale-skinned wannabe actress who dreams of a career in showbusiness, allows her to sparkle and shine. With her husky singing voice, her “audition” song will probably be played out in hundreds of drama schools and TV reality shows from now on. Separately, they are terrific, together they explode. The chemistry they built up in Stupid, Crazy, Love and Gangster Squad, is allowed to really show through and you are literally swept along by this marvellous pair.
La La Land is a dream of a movie. If you are put off by it being a musical, it’s not like a conventional film song and dance show. It’s may have an old-fashioned feel but it’s very modern, very relevant and, most of all, we need a feel-good film right this moment. This is it. It doesn’t disappoint. It delivers. Go and be charmed.