I am going to say straight off the bat, I love Damien Chazelle as a filmmaker. His previous film, an intense butt-clenching and arm-rest gripping Whiplash, was easily my favourite film of 2015. Chazelle repeats the feat of making a great film in La La Land where he perfectly harmonizes elements from music and romance to conjure something of a rare, musical masterpiece that never strays off the beat. A genuinely emotional and joyful experience when La La Land hits its stratosphere, it reinvigorates the bygone genre of musicals and is more than just a sweetly serenaded love story between Emma Stone’s Mia and Ryan Gosling’s Sebastian, who by the way have fantastic performances.
La La Land tells the story of an aspiring actress, Mia (Emma Stone) and cocky but charismatic jazz musician, Sebastian (Ryan Gosling). Mia is struggling to make it in the City of Angels as an actress while Sebastian plays the piano at tacky bars and restaurants which stagnate his talent. They soon meet and fall in love, right in the heart of Los Angeles. As success mounts for the both of them, the pair realize that the dreams they have worked so hard to maintain, now threaten to tear them apart.
Musical films are an anathema to studios mainly because of the tricky situation when it comes to persuading the audience to join them in grooving to the unknown beats of the film. Well, La La Land is none of that. Chazelle pays homage to old-fashioned Hollywood musicals like Singin’ in the Rain or The Sound of Music and combines it with his inventiveness to craft a movie that is unexplainably lovely and uncannily original. I have never been so invested in a musical film thanks to composer Justin Hurwitz’s talented song writing which when coupled together with the impressive choreography sequences, makes it entrancing, almost like we are floating in the air with Mia and Sebastian. There is never a dull moment when the lights start to dim by the margins and the spotlight charmingly glows on the star as we are arrested in their unwavering gaze, waiting for them to belt out the next hit in the original soundtrack. .
When La La Land appears to be a narratively linear love story on the surface, what lies deeper within its seams is the transformation of two people trying to maintain their personal relationship while chasing their hopes and dreams. Chazelle brings us on a sentimental journey with these characters where we get to experience their excitement at pursuing new endeavours and their digression from life and each other when everything hits rock bottom. It is immensely satisfying to see the both of them achieve success at being an acclaimed artist. At the same time, we completely empathize with them as they both need each other in their lives for them to feel human again. The pacing in this movie is perfect and La La Land never does fall flat to the slow, character building moments like most films do.
Emma Stone is one of the most underrated working actresses in the industry today in my books and she showcases her acting prowess again in La La Land. She thrives as an ambitious actress looking for a big break in the entertainment hub of Los Angeles when everything seems out of reach. Brimming with heart, soul and a quirky personality, Stone as Mia is a match made in heaven; someone worthy of all the accolades she is sure to receive.
Having acted as Stone’s romantic interest in two other films (Crazy, Stupid, Love and Gangster Squad), Ryan Gosling gives another assured performance as a charismatic jazz pianist, whose chemistry with Stone is already telepathically well established at every level from the beginning. Their on-screen relationship flourishes as we see them tap, dance and sing their way through scenes with sheer momentum and class.
‘Magical, enchanting, thrilling, glittering, incredible, mesmerizing…’ These are just some of the words used to distinguish La La Land as seen on the theatrical poster. Some may see it as a red flag for a bad film (why would you?) but it is the complete opposite for La La Land. I don’t think there are enough positive superlatives to distinctly describe this movie because it is every single one of them and more. Damien Chazelle is the pioneer of the mannequin challenge and me being an adolescent, I never ever grumble like I’m so used to when the spirited song and dance come on.
Directed by: Damien Chazelle (Whiplash)
Written by: Damien Chazelle
Starring: Emma Stone, Ryan Gosling, John Legend, Rosemarie DeWitt
Music by: Justin Hurwitz
Running time: 128 minutes