Sometimes so much is said about a film that it is hard to not get a clear impression of how a film has been received. Such is the case of the overwhelming support of La La Land. You have to try and put this out of your head when you go in, but it was hard not to get very excited for the film.
La La Land is Damien Chazelle’s romantic musical comedy drama that stars Emma Stone as aspiring actress Mia and Ryan Gosling as jazz pianist Seb. When they meet both are struggling to achieve their dreams, with Mia never making it through auditions and Seb playing piano in various groups or clubs in order to get the money together to open a jazz club. We see their romance as we move through the year from winter to spring, and so on. But what is at the film’s core is a continuation of one of the key themes of Chazelle’s previous film Whiplash, how far you can go in pursuit of a goal or dream and the cost of it.
And the film itself is a beautiful film; it’s completely bewitching if you get invested in it. I think some people may struggle because it is a musical, and right from the opening number it’s clear that this is a very dreamy and fantastical film. The work from director Damien Chazelle is stunning; he creates such a great atmosphere. Sequences such as A Lovely Night, Planetarium, and the Epilogue are almost dream like. The work from cinematographer Linus Sandgren adds to this even more. The shots are not just beautiful to look at, but masterfully framed.
The two central performances from Gosling and Stone are superb. The two have worked together before, most prominently in Crazy, Stupid, Love, and it shows as they have great chemistry together, and are a joy to watch. They both really take what could potentially be quite dull characters and elevate them and make you care about them. When you consider that there aren’t really any other fleshed out characters in La La Land, in fact John Legend is really the only actor I can remember appearing in multiple scenes, then their performances are even more important as there aren’t any other characters or performances to carry the film. If I’m honest then their singing and dancing probably isn’t perfect, but I’m really not an expert in musical theatre, and so it was easily good enough for me. It’s clear to see why both have awards buzz around them, and whilst Gosling probably won’t manage to win best actor, Stone certain has a shot at best actress.
The music is another key ingredient to La La Land. The original songs, like City of Stars or Audition (The Fools Who Dream) are great. But just as important is Justin Hurwitz’s score. There are long passages of the film where there aren’t any songs with vocals, but there are still great musical moments because the score does just as strong a job of telling the story. In the Planetarium and Epilogue sequences the music is the star as much as beautiful visuals.
One of the most defining characteristics of La La Land is how nostalgic it is for old Hollywood and classic musicals, like Singin’ In The Rain. There are blatant references like CinemaScope and Mia’s love for films like Casablanca. But there are also far more subtle references that only great devotees will see (Alicia Malone has a great video on this on her YouTube channel). Similarly it’s a very Los Angeles driven film, it’s willing to mock it’s setting with jokes about everyone driving a Prius or ridiculous fads like samba/tapas places. But it’s a film that loves LA as the home of Hollywood and old musicals, and it brings us on a tour of that.
There is a line in one of the songs that says ‘here’s to the ones who dream’ and that really sums up who the film is for. If you can lost in the fantasy and magic of La La Land then you’ll love it, but if not then you might be able to admire the performances, direction, and music, but it will be a hard film to love. Thankfully I think it’s fairly easy to get swept up by La La Land, despite a lack of supporting characters , and I absolutely was. It’s going to be hard to beat for my favourite of 2017.