2016 – USA
Director: Damien Chazelle
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, John Legend, J.K. Simmons
Words: Joe H.
The film genre of the musical is one which is quite often dismissed before it is even explored, with many people saying “I don’t like musicals” when the first film of its type that springs to mind is Mamma Mia, rather than the great films of old starring the likes of Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.
La La Land seeks to entertain modern audiences while at the same time paying tribute to classic Hollywood cinema.
We follow the story of Mia (Emma Stone), an aspiring actress, and Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), a jazz musician, struggling to get by while pursuing their dreams in Los Angeles.
The two meet in a series of chance encounters, and find one another each holding a passion which their life is centred around – with Sebastian for the music and history of jazz and dreams of opening his own club, and Mia who seeks to live out her life-long ambition of becoming an actress.
As we follow our central characters along their developing relationship, their story shows both the joy and pain of pursuing your dreams in life, conveyed superbly through captivating musical moments.
Against the doubt that some can feel with musicals, the song and dance numbers here don’t feel forced, or even as though a scene has been setup for the sole purpose of breaking into song, but they emerge from a situation fluidly, and don’t hit the typical assumption when it comes to musicals that every song and dance number is a camp, over-the-top bombastic routine – there are short and intimate duets, just as there are equally larger set pieces with fantastic choreography.
LA is the backdrop to this story, and it’s a landscape with an elusive magic, being a city more closely associated with the film industry than any other in the world, it’s an iconic place yet its lack of distinguishing features (aside from the famous HOLLYWOOD sign) makes it less visually distinctive than other major cities (e.g. Paris, New York, London) – highlighted by our on-screen duo when looking across the city from a hillside before their first dance number with the line “it’s not much to look at”, and repeated again towards the end of their story, implying that there’s so much more to the city than its appearance would suggest.
One of the few landmarks, the Griffith Observatory, is used when a scene from the James Dean classic Rebel Without A Cause is featured as a setup for one of the more entrancing scenes, but it’s a city that seems to be all things to all people.
Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone are both on stunning form, acting their way effortlessly in and out of the musical numbers, sparked through a conversation or an everyday situation that gives a reason to sing and dance – it makes you want to be in it, and rarely will you see a film that leaves you with a joy filled energy and has you tapping your feet as you watch.
This is a film that makes you genuinely feel good.
La La Land is the follow-up feature to the Oscar nominated Whiplash from writer and director Damien Chazelle, who along with soundtrack composer Justin Hurwitz, has created something truly special here – a film that gives a reason for the musical to exist again.