La La Land (2016) – Film Review
Director: Damien Chazelle
Cast: Emma Stone, Ryan Gosling, John Legend
by Roger Crow
Director Damien Chazelle’s last movie was the breathtaking Whiplash a couple of years ago, the best film about drumming ever made. That project landed JK Simmons a well deserved Oscar, and featured a knockout turn from Miles Teller.
Such acclaim meant getting this follow-up off the ground was a lot easier. Yes, Chazelle recalls Simmons for a minor but memorable role, but the key reason La La Land excites me is Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling. Their chemistry in Crazy, Stupid, Love a few years ago was terrific. And the thought of them singing and dancing their way through a colour-saturated love letter to classic musicals was too good to resist.
Some critics have compared it to The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. But never having seen it, I just call La La Land an old fashioned, feelgood, bittersweet joy from start to finish.
The open number set in a traffic jam sets things up beautifully. Like classic Buffy episode ‘Once More With Feeling’, people burst into song and start hoofing at the drop of a hat. It never feels forced, just natural, like singing along to your favourite song while doing the washing up.
I will confess I am in love with Ms Stone, the actress who stole my heart in Easy A, while few actors are as cool as Gosling. They are essentially fire and ice. Her flame-hair actress Mia trying to melt the heart of his glacially charming jazz-loving pianist, Sebastian.
“A breathless joy”
They are not the best singers or dancers in the world but that naturalism is half the joy. Every time the couple are on screen, I’m willing them to get together and live happily ever after.
The movie is also reminiscent of that knockout scene in (500) Days of Summer, the chronologically challenged romantic comedy with Joseph Gordon-Levitt, in which he dances down the high street with an army of delighted followers, having fallen in love.
Good support comes from John Legend as Sebastian’s associate, while an audition scene in which Mia sings a story will leave you slack of jaw. A special nod must also go the photography, which is a feast for the eyes. All primary colours, and retina-searing beauty, while the editing is often a breathless joy.
I don’t realise while watching the preview that La La Land is about to grab a record breaking arm-full of Golden Globes across the Pond. All I know is it makes my heart soar on a bleak January evening and I can’t wait to see it again. Or buy the soundtrack.
With any luck it will also do well at the Oscars and Baftas. But to me and my equally besotted wife, it will always be that bittersweet little film that decided to do something a bit different, and stole our hearts in the process.
Yes it will look great on Blu-ray in a few months, but do yourself a favour and see it on the biggest screen possible with the best sound system. You’ll be so glad you did.