Director: Damien Chazelle
Starring: Emma Stone, Ryan Gosling
Release Date: December 26, 2016
Expectations were high for me when I went to see La La Land the other day. Director Damien Chazelle’s breakout success, Whiplash, is one of my favourite films of the decade, so while I like to have an open mind when going into most movies, I was very excited to see Chazelle’s latest. Despite my anticipation and excitement, La La Land blew me away. It’s a film filled with passion. It’s a film where vibrant colours and smooth camera movements fill the screen in each shot. It’s a film that has characters you fall in love with from the moment they first come on screen. La La Land feels magical in the same way Disney films did when I was a kid, every scene and musical number is so full of energy that you cannot help but smile. This is a shining example of hope in a year full of tragedy and is an absolute must-see, even if musicals aren’t your thing.
La La Land tales the relationship between aspiring actress, Mia (Emma Stone), and jazz pianist, Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), as they meet each other and fall in love at a time where each of their dreams in life is seemingly attainable but still so far away. The greatest strength of this film is the chemistry between Gosling and Stone, and every scene they are in together feels great and grounded in reality. Both characters are fantastical enough to be entertaining but grounded in reality enough to feel like they could actually exist. Both characters have realistic flaws that many can relate to and these imperfections make their relationship entirely believable. One of my favourite scenes happens toward the start of the movie, where neither Sebastian nor Mia, have admitted that they like one another and keep acting like they’re just trying to be friendly. It is such an entertaining scene and speaks volumes about the quality of the performances wherein they can portray people hiding their feelings so well that they disappear into the characters.
It would be wrong to write this review without mentioning the musical numbers. La La Land is among the only original major Hollywood musicals to be released in the last few decades (That is to say it’s not a remake or an adaptation) and while it pays homage to the great Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire Musicals of yore, it does not get bogged down in references and instead chisels its own identity into the history of Hollywood musicals. La La Land opens with a huge song and dance number on a traffic ridden highway in LA, with excellent choreography and a song that will burn into your consciousness. This is the biggest musical piece of the film and feels wholly original and sets up the bright tone of the movie to come. While none of the other songs has quite the scope of this piece, every song blends into the dialogue very fluidly and are all very engaging.
As someone who does not watch a tonne of musicals, this kept me very entertained and did not seem obnoxious. While I enjoyed this aspect of the film, people who are big into musicals might find more issues, such as the choreography in the smaller scenes looking a little under-rehearsed or the lip syncing not being spot on one hundred per cent of the time. These are minor gripes, however, in an otherwise spectacular film.
My only problem with the movie is that it drags a bit at the beginning before Mia and Sebastian meet. The best part of the film is seeing them together, and the first few scenes establishing them each as individuals and introducing the characters move slowly. This is acceptable and even necessary as we need to know who they are without the other, but it does mean the start is less energetic than the rest of the film.
La La Land is something special that I think many will enjoy. It balances comedy and drama exceptionally well and is beautifully shot. The performances are great across the board and each character is excellently written. The musical numbers are great and show off a spectacular, jazz influenced soundtrack that will be stuck in your head for days after you see the film. With La La Land, Damien Chazelle has cemented himself as one of the great new directors and I cannot wait to see what he does next. Run, don’t walk, to see La La Land.
The Finer Cut Score: