La La Land is written and directed by Damien Chazelle and stars Emma Stone, Ryan Gosling, John Legend and Rosemarie DeWitt. It follows an aspiring actress and an aspiring jazz musician, who meet and fall in love in LA. However, their relationship is tested more and more as each of their dreams begins to play out before them. Let me get this straight, I am not really a fan of musicals. Don't get me wrong, there are definitely some fantastic ones out there, such as Singin' in the Rain, The Sound of Music, and the film that apparently inspired this one, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg; it's just that as time has gone by, I feel that musicals have gotten less original and have started to fall more to convention and formula (films like Mamma Mia and Chicago spring to mind). That being said, I was incredibly excited for this. Not only because it's garnered as much immense critical praise as it has, but also because it's written and directed by Damien Chazelle, who wrote and directed Whiplash 2 years ago, which is actually, in my opinion, one of the best films of recent years. And the fact that Chazelle's passion for music, especially jazz music, came through so clearly in Whiplash made me undeniably anticipant of what he would do here. Add the fact that Whiplash composer Justin Hurwitz was producing the score and music for this, and the fact that it starred Ryan Gosling in one of the two lead roles, an actor I have greatly admired over the past few years, and I was extraordinarily ready to see this movie. But what did I think? Here's my take on La La Land.
Y'know I always ask that same question, or at least a variety of it, in each review. 'What did I think?' My problem with answering it for La La Land was that I just thought so much of it. But I suppose if I'm boiling it down, I thought it was absolutely fantastic. Damien Chazelle is confirming his place as a true modern master of cinema. From the first twenty seconds of La La Land, you can clearly see that it's a celebration of music in all it's forms, as the camera slowly passes a series of cars, all filled with people of different cultures and lifestyles listening to the different genres that define them. Then, the camera doesn't cut, as it rushes over to one car. In it sits a young girl, who starts singing. Then, through, the film's opening number, the camera continues to follow the excited LA citizens, as they dance and jump around the freeway singing about 'another day of sun'. From this point on, I was hooked. The instant vibrancy, colour and cinematic craftsmanship of this opening sequence was electric and put the biggest smile on my face, and I was able to feel joyously prepared for what was to come.
So to start, I have to say that the two lead characters are so stunningly believable, and I have to give a huge amount of credit for Gosling and Stone for that. They are wondrous, having the most beautifully relatable chemistry, whilst also giving likeable, honest and personal performances that are really some of the best of the year. They manage to fit into their roles wonderfully, creating full engagement with their audiences and with each other. But without the writing of Chazelle, the characters would be nowhere near as developed or true to life as they are. In fact, what Chazelle's script does so well is that it manages to somehow make this spectacular cinematic musical experience so grounded in reality. It's not sugarcoated or sappy. Although it will put the widest of smiles on your face, it's not overly feelgood or happy. It's actually brutally honest and genuine, and gets more and more so as the film goes on. It is amazingly emotional in its ultimate bittersweetness, and without spoiling anything, the ending of this was absolutely heartbreaking, but so gloriously uplifting at the same time. Everything from the way it was edited, to the way the music fit with the story and sensibility of the narrative, to the way the film was structured, to the way the film was performed had such a profound effect on me that I was utterly blown away by the humanity of what I saw.
But perhaps what is most impressive about La La Land is its ability to combine this realism seamlessly with the ecstatic spectacle it presents. The musical numbers are sensational; choreographed, written and performed to perfectly reflect everything the film is saying at a given time. The musical aspect is not only tonally consistent throughout, even in the face of the film's more natural and realistic elements, but also perfectly nostalgic as well as socially modernised, allowing the film to remind us of the musicals we loved from the 50s and 60s, whilst also allowing us to believe that we are seeing this in the digital age. Impressively, it never feels like a tribute to another time period, but rather as if it actually fits both in said time period, as well as modern day Los Angeles.
Overall, I didn't think the films of 2016 could get any better, and then I saw La La Land. I feared it would not live up to the hype, but it actually managed to exceed my expectations. Through some of the most sublime cinematography and camerawork, astonishing performances from the lead actors, wonderful writing and direction from Damien Chazelle, and gorgeous composition from Justin Hurwitz, a truly magical musical has been created. It has far more depth, weight and legitimacy to it than the 'feel-good' blast some of the critics are promising, and I think it's all the better for it.
So what did you think of La La Land? Have you seen it? Did you enjoy it? Make sure to let me know down in the comments and if you liked this review and want to see more like it go to creators.co/@garwood reviews for more.