I feel the the need to state beforehand that musicals are not my forte, it’s probably my least favoured genre of film. It even makes revisiting some classic Disney films, a bit of an issue for me because it sometimes irritates me when they break out and start singing. That being said every now and then a musical comes along that I end up really enjoying. La La Land is the latest musical I can add to that list.
This film follows, Mia (Emma Stone) and Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) who are both living in Los Angeles with aspirations of fulfilling their dreams. Mia is an aspiring actress and Sebastian is a Jazz pianist who has dreams of one day opening up his own Jazz club. As success begins to find them, the dreams they so desperately chased begin to threaten the stability of the their relationship together.
La La Land opens with a spectacular musical number, which is shot to look like it’s all in one continuous take. I don’t know if it actually was but either way it’s impressive and it got me on board with this film straight away. Every shot in the film is impeccably framed and well lit, Damien Chazelle’s direction is terrific. It’s clear to see that he had a very clear vision for how this film would look and Linus Sandgren’s cinematography brings it all to life with flying colours. The often bright and vivid scenery and backdrops are a real treat to the eye.
The script which was written by Damien himself, wrestles with some thought provoking topics. These themes make La La Land more than just a musical, if you strip all the music and singing away, you’ll still be left with a solid script with well written characters. At times it might be a little too ambitious for it’s own good. There are a few scenes that intentionally tread into the realm of fantasy and whilst those scenes looked great visually and had a dreamlike quality to them, the concept of that happening in this film did feel a little jarring, despite the key theme of this film being chasing your “dreams”.
This is absolutely a throwback to an era of Hollywood that doesn’t exist anymore. It’s easy to forget that this film is actually set during the present day not in the 50’s. What helps evoke that classic Hollywoood feeling was the costume designs as well as the hair and makeup, a lot of praise has to go to the people working in these departments because their work complements the cinematography beautifully. As well as making it feel like you’ve jumped in a time machine back to the 50’s.
Through out the script are some lines of dialogue, mostly delivered by Keith (John Legend) that act as a commentary not only on the progression of Jazz as a genre of music in the film, but as commentary on this film overall as a modern musical, that’s staying faithful to it’s inspired roots as well as tackling new things that the genre doesn’t typically do.
I’ve already established that this is a well made film all round, but the perfect finishing touches to this production are both Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling who are superb. I can’t imagine anybody else playing these roles and it working in the way it did. Their chemistry together is spot on and once their romance begins to blossom it feels natural. Both of them portray their characters desire to succeed in a realistic manner, After countless setbacks Mia is starting to lose faith in her own dreams, and Sebastian believes that nobody would be insterested in the idea of a Jazz club anymore. Their relationship dynamic allows for them to encourage one another and push each other to continue fighting for their dreams. One scene in particular whilst they’re sat eating dinner is a highlight in terms of the strength of their performances overall.
With the film being a musical I’m sure you’re wondering how the music is, well unfortunately I will settle with describing the music as just okay. Apart from a handful of songs such as ‘City of Stars’, ‘Another Day of Sun’ and ‘Audition’, the rest are rather forgettable. The musical score itself is something I really liked and those three songs I mentioned above, are good enough to the point where I actually downloaded the soundtrack on Apple Music.
The ending is another aspect of the film that subverts your typical expectation and I do commend Damien for trying to do something different here, but I felt in the end it came off rather unsatisfying. Mainly because the last act of the film was rather rushed which is a shame because I do like the ideas he had, the execution just wasn’t right.
Overall La La Land is truly wonderful. It casts a spell on you and draws you in from the very beginning, with a spectacular opening musical number. It’s a gracious throwback to a style of film that Hollywood doesn’t really make anymore and despite it being a bit too ambitious at times, everything from the musical score, to the acting, to costume designs and sets remain completely captivating.
(4 Stars out of 5)
La La Land; Starring Emma Stone, Ryan Gosling and John Legend.
Directed by Damien Chazelle. Now showing in UK & US Cinemas.