By Ryan Keating-Lambert
La La Land is a living breathing technicolor work of art. A delightfully charming trip down memory lane to the films of Hollywood’s golden age, but also so much more. A modern masterpiece with class performances and cinematography so sharp and inventive that it makes a lot of other films look ordinary. It’s also a musical for those who aren’t that into musicals.
Mia (Emma Stone), a struggling young actress, crosses paths with jazz pianist Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) and a sparkling musical romance of epic proportion begins. Things become complicated however, when show business starts to get the best of them.
Director Damian Chazelle already showed the world what he was made of with the highly successful and award winning Whiplash, so the hype and expectations about this triumphant return to the Hollywood musical were more than huge, and La La Land more than delivers.
From the get-go Chazelle lifts you up into a musical world that is invigorating and uplifting, but never boring, nor overdone. The opening sequence on the busy motorway is one of the most well choreographed crowd dance scenes I’ve ever scene, with a sprightful little number called ‘Another Day of Sun’. When the title of the film appears, not to mention the ‘filmed in Cinemascope’ before it.. I almost started clapping. What an opener.
You can recognise a lot of old movie and musical influences at work here. Mia’s flat is filled with vintage movie posters, and there are loads of visual references to classics like Singing in the Rain and more. La La Land thrives on nostalgia, not to mention the superb cast.
Ryan Gosling shines as the penniless jazz obsessed pianist Sebastian, and spent A LOT of time actually learning those songs on the piano – two hours a day for six days a week to be precise. John Legend, singer and pianist and lead vocalist of ‘The Messengers’ in the film, was actually jealous of how fast Gosling managed to learn the songs by heart.
Emma Stone gave an equally outstanding performance as Mia and has a pretty impressive set of pipes on her. The story in many ways resembles Stone’s real life story, who dropped out of school when she was 15 to pursue an acting career. The chemistry between Stone and Gosling is flawless. Being their third movie together, I can understand why. Looks like these two probably have a lot of fun on and off set.
Though La La Land is a love story and a musical, it never dwells too much in either field. The song and dance numbers are stunning and prove that composer Justin Hurwitz has some serious talent. They’re catchy but never annoying, and they’re also few and far between. Hurwitz has created a classic Hollywood score with a lasting impression, but also gives you time to breathe. There’s plenty of witty dialogue in between, and on top of that are some beautiful instrumental sequences – the one in the observatory is particularly memorable and conjured memories of Mary Poppins and the like.
Cinematographer Linus Sandgren (American Hustle, Joy) binds it all together so well. The camera is so fluid and every shot is just so long and colourful – another signature of the Hollywood musical. I had trouble at times even noticing the cuts. Superb editing. It all makes the film so personal and really gets under your skin.
Chazelle has created another noteworthy award winner and it’s easy to see why the film broke records and won 7 Golden Globes, including Best Picture in the comedy and musical category. It’s a film about the Hollywood dream with less la-di-dah and a little bit more honesty. On top of that, ‘City of Stars’ is probably going to be everyone’s new favourite karaoke song.