La La Land has been labelled “a whimsical tribute to Hollywood’s golden age of musicals”, but to compare it to Hollywood movies of the past is missing the point. It’s a marmite movie, you’ll love it and leave with a song in your heart or want to walk out after the opening number.
La La Land is packed with original songs that stay with you past the rolling credits. It is a classic boy-meets-girl romantic story set in the La La Land of Los Angeles. I loved this film, but then I did spend most of my childhood years drawing the curtains on a Sunday afternoon and watching classic Hollywood musicals. It does invoke memories of West Side Story, Singing in the Rain, An American in Paris, etc. but to compare the singing and dancing skills with these classic films misses the charm that makes this movie so watchable and utterly enchanting.
Immediately the film opens and the audience is immersed into a technicolour musical world. Drivers stuck in a mammoth queue of traffic on the freeway into Los Angeles – the city where dreams are made. A catchy Latin beat with jazzy overtones starts and the drivers break into song, the repetitive chorus being Its another day of sun. You see the city skyline in the distance, the clear blue skies bathing sunshine on everyone going to the city to follow their dreams. Drivers leap out of cars to sing and dance and as the shot pans out you see hundreds of them jumping onto the roofs of the cars singing with a stunning backdrop of the city in the distance.
The young director, 32-year-old Damien Chazelle, has said in interviews that he was inspired by pop-art with its vibrant colours and as a kid he was obsessed with Disney musicals.
We follow the story of Seb (Ryan Gosling) and Mia (Emma Stone). Seb is a jazz pianist hankering after a bygone age of jazz clubs; he dresses in a retro fashion and drives a huge classic American convertible. Mia is an actress working in a coffee shop on a movie lot, acting her little heart out at audition after audition and wondering why she can’t get a break. They fall in love but can their romance survive each of them doing whatever it takes to follow their dreams?
“La La Land is about dreamers, hope and love. There is no deep message or complex plot, it is a piece of art”
After a terse brief encounter in the traffic, inevitably they meet again and their story is told in enchanting musical vignettes with stunning backdrops. Each scene carefully crafted to stir up evocative feelings and please the aesthetic senses, taking in some of the most breath-taking sights of Los Angeles. This film is magical, wonderful, enchanting and yes, a bit predictable but who cares.
My favourite scene was when they dance at the planetarium at the famous Griffith Observatory featured in Rebel without a Cause, lifting off the ground and dancing with the stars. The dance scene after a party that was featured on the posters was filmed at sunset on the roads high up overlooking San Fernando valley.
La La land topped the Academy Award nominations list when it was announced, tying a record set by “All About Eve” and “Titanic”. The movie is nominated for best picture, best director and acting nominations for its two stars, Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone. Its 10 other nominations came in nine categories.
Damien Chazelle has already become the youngest Best Director at the Golden Globes, and has under his belt two acclaimed movies in La La Land and the jazz drummer drama Whiplash. If he wins an Oscar he will become the youngest director ever to do so.
The casting of the two lead characters is just right. Gosling apparently had intensive piano lessons for six weeks for the role and strikes just the right note as the romantic dreamer torn between his love of jazz and his love for Mia. Stone comes across as naïve and vulnerable but determined to make it, another song that touched the emotions was when she sings her solo Here’s to the ones who dream.
La La Land is about dreamers, hope and love. There is no deep message, or complex plot, it is a piece of art. Let the music seep into your head and the beauty of the scenes wash over your senses. It is a breath of fresh air and offers a refreshing alternative to the standard formulaic big budget super-hero/disaster/blood and guts films churned out of Hollywood. If you don’t go because you don’t like musicals you are missing out.
Predictable throughout, the ending was not, but so finely crafted it added a new dimension to what is a thoroughly enjoyable film. For those who walked out and just don’t get it I’d say I’m thankful there are directors and filmmakers out there who are brave enough to follow their dreams and bring us films such as this.