Starring: Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, John Legend
Director: Damien Chazelle
Running Time: 128 mins
La La Land is an American film about a jazz pianist and an aspiring actress who fall for each other as they both strive to achieve their dreams in Los Angeles.
I don’t like to say it often, but I think it’s pretty much impossible for anyone with a heart and soul to dislike La La Land. It’s an exceptionally happy, joyful and uplifting film, full of vibrant, colourful and delightful settings, dance numbers and cinematography. It’s also a story for the ages, with an incredibly relatable and often bittersweet look at how difficult the path to achieving your dreams can be. Its lead performances are amazing, Damien Chazelle gives arguably one of the best directing performances of all time, and most of all, its music is wonderful.
There’s so much to talk about with La La Land, and all of it is good. However, I think it’s best to start with the man who both directed and wrote this absolute masterpiece: Damien Chazelle. His previous outing with Whiplash was something incredibly special, and already seen as a modern classic, but he goes to new lengths to indulge his love for cinema and music with La La Land.
And this isn’t the sort of self-indulging passion project like some recent Tarantino and Scorsese films that seem to be made to entertain the directors themselves more than anyone else, because Chazelle is all too pleased to take us along on a magical journey through the wondrous place where dreams are made and broken, harking back to the Golden Age of Hollywood better than any film before.
Chazelle carries over a lot of the same stylistic techniques from Whiplash, with quick cuts, long takes and innovative and dynamic camerawork everywhere to be seen, but what’s most incredible is how he manages to use it in a completely different way. La La Land is an almost completely different film to Whiplash, and the way in which Chazelle goes about directing it is utterly spectacular.
With his dynamic visual style, the film has wonderful energy and ambition, strengthening the story of our main characters striving to achieve their dreams. However, the way in which he uses so many motifs from Classic Hollywood, including the bright, vibrant colours of the costumes, long and elegant instrumental sequences, and even the odd touch of a film-noir vibe from time to time, is such a joy for any film fan to see. With so many little details about Hollywood past and present sprinkled here and there, I could watch this film a million times and still be utterly enchanted by its love for the movies.
But what’s even more impressive is that the film’s screenplay is also written by Damien Chazelle. The film’s story may sound like cheesy and fanciful rubbish at first, but the success of the film’s story is testament to how good Chazelle’s writing is. Uplifting, joyful and wonderfully magical at almost every moment, the central romance is spellbinding to follow, whilst the conviction that our two main characters have to achieve their dreams, even if they get knocked down from time to time, is so admirable to see. The result of that is that we have a story in which it’s so easy to care about the protagonists’ hopes and ambitions, and an absolute pleasure to spend two hours with them as they navigate a turning point in their lives.
The thing is, Chazelle goes one better than an uplifting and magical musical by also providing some emotionally riveting themes. Particularly as the film moves towards a spectacular and what I’m sure will be legendary finale, Chazelle inserts some beautifully tender and bittersweet emotions to the story, as well as providing an exceptionally unpredictable and innovative way to tell a story of star-crossed lovers.
Now, enough about Damien Chazelle, because we’ve still got a lot to talk about. Next up are the central performances by Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling. We’ve seen the two work brilliantly on screen together in Crazy Stupid Love, and even Gangster Squad, but there’s something even more magical about their partnership in La La Land.
Apart from the fact that they make a wonderfully convincing and captivating romantic couple on screen, there’s never a moment where one overshadows the other. The two work together to make their characters so lovable and fascinating, and that means that, whilst there’s always so much to be impressed by in their incredibly dynamic individual performances, there’s nothing more special than seeing them together on screen.
Whether that’s in some of the film’s more blissful romantic periods, or whether they’re sparring, they both play off one another with ease, and make for the most entertaining and energetic leading lady and gentleman I’ve ever seen.
And whilst Stone and Gosling aren’t quite Debbie Reynolds and Gene Kelly when it comes to the vocals, their singing is just as good as their normal acting. A lot of the music in La La Land is a little more restrained than classic 40s and 50s musicals, requiring for a less showy singing voice, but if anything, Stone and Gosling get better as the film goes on.
Whether that’s just me or a deliberate decision to mirror their characters’ ascent towards achieving their dreams, we don’t know, but it seemed to me that the pair of them both evolved their on screen musical talents wonderfully along with their characters, which was a wonderful little detail.
And that leads me nicely into the one thing that might make you reluctant to see La La Land: the music. I love a good movie musical, and my favourites are all from the 1940s-60s era, just what this film is a love letter to. Put simply, however, La La Land is easily my favourite musical of all time, and undoubtedly one of the best ever made.
When so many movie musicals fail to weave storytelling and musical numbers together, La La Land does it so effortlessly. The moments where the characters break into song feel completely natural, and the songs themselves aren’t just entertaining toe-tappers, but integral parts of the story, that accomplish storytelling better than any musical I’ve ever seen.
What’s more is that this isn’t a Les Misérables, and the singing isn’t at all overbearing. On the whole, the film is probably about 20-30% musical numbers, and because they’re so good, yet so few and far between, I was overjoyed whenever the characters broke into song and dance, something that I’ve never really felt before in a musical.
As this review is getting way too long, I want to finish off by quickly touching on some of the film’s other best bits. Principally, the way it looks. The dance choreography is wonderful, the colourful costume and production design is a delight, and the cinematography is so full of life and joy. Simply put, I bet that you can have an absolutely magnificent time watching this film even with the sound off, because it’s just so well-made, and so beautiful to look at.
So, overall, I think it’s fair to say that I was completely spellbound by La La Land. Doing something that no movie musical has ever done to me before, making me excited to see a story told through song, as well as providing an uplifting, funny and wonderfully joyful story, the film is a real delight. Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling’s performances are pitch-perfect, whilst Damien Chazelle’s innovative and passionate writing and directing are the icing on the cake for this absolute triumph of a film, and that’s why I’m giving it a 9.7.