This has been my most anticipated movie for almost a year now. Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone reuniting for a third time, this time directed by the incredible Damien Chazelle (who should have won at least one Academy Award for Whiplash), and on a big scale, old school musical! I had built it up so much over the months, and watching the many award show wins in the run-up to it finally being released here in the UK, I worried it would be overhyped. Thankfully, I was not disappointed.
La La Land follows two dreamers. Emma Stone’s Mia, a failing actress who works at a coffee shop on the Warner Bros lot, and Ryan Gosling’s Sebastian, a jazz pianist playing cheesy Christmas music at a restaurant, who dreams of owning his own jazz club. We see them meet, we see them fall in love, we see them struggle, we see them argue. It’s a beautiful blossoming romance and it’s a tear-jerker too. It’s like the equally brilliant Blue Valentine, except less depressing, and you know, more full of uplifting duets.
La La Land manages to be both sweetly nostalgic for the musicals of an age gone by (from the opening credits to the filming of certain dance numbers) as well as incredibly forward thinking and revolutionary, perhaps helping create a new golden age for the musical. No doubt this will be linked time and again to the love of Seb’s life in the film itself: Jazz. It is out of fashion and stuck in the past. Whereas Keith (John Legend) merges pop and jazz into this strange monster, Seb himself wishes to honour the past greats but forge a new future. He’s thus stuck between his dream and his reality, the same struggle Mia is engulfed in.
As expected, the chemistry between Gosling and Stone is electric. The film is at its best when the two of them share the screen, cracking wise, enjoying each other, and falling in love. Thankfully Chazelle knows this, and there are barely a couple of background characters to interrupt them. This is simply their story, even the hint of a difficult relationship between Seb and his old band member Keith, is left for another time. Chazelle wants only Stone and Gosling centre stage, and that is a wise decision.
Emma Stone is utterly charming as always, and mixes wonderful singing and dancing with a deep heartfelt performance and her usual impeccable comedy timing. Gosling’s Seb is a little harder round the edges, at least in the beginning. His determination to succeed in his singular goal-oriented mind is reminiscent of Andrew Neiman from Whiplash in a few of the opening moments. However, the introduction of Stone’s Mia sees a different side to Seb appear. Gosling is one of the most underappreciated comic actors. He has some real comedy chops (last year’s excellent The Nice Guys was cruelly underseen) and Chazelle’s script allows him to be endearingly funny here.
As for the music itself, there are some great songs throughout the movie, but obviously the one that sticks out is the slow, beautiful City of Stars. Aside from that, the opening number, shot on a freeway ramp in LA is grandiose and spectacular. It harkens back to the large scale filmmaking of old, with very few edits. The kind we rarely see anymore.
The choreography is spectacular, from the very opening scene, which introduces the audience to this completely magical version of Los Angeles. In a film of such brilliance, it needs to be made sure that Mandy Moore’s exquisite, complex work is not forgotten.
The set and costume design is also excellent. It’s a gorgeous, unreal, dream of LA that we are immediately transported to and completely buy in to. A movie like this succeeds so spectacularly because it is the accumulation of everyone putting in some of the best work of their lives. The director. The actors. The cinematographer. The choreographer. The set design. The list goes on. It is not just visually stunning but stunning in all aspects of production.
The one slight flaw here is a little bit of clunky pacing around two thirds into the movie, but no movie is ever perfect. Energy and enthusiasm and pure love just flows out of the screen, which is enough to more than make up for a slow moment.
So will it win big? Most likely. The film itself has been beloved by all awards committees thus far and the Oscars should be no different. Chazelle and the team behind the scenes certainly deserve gongs for what is some truly incredible work. Gosling is certainly a forerunner for Best Actor but may get pipped to the post by Manchester By the Sea‘s Casey Affleck, whilst Stone should and probably will win for Best Actress.
Verdict: It’s a film that adores the past but also, crucially, looks forward to the future. Gosling, Stone, Chazelle, Moore, hell the whole cast and crew, deserve to lap up the awards for the work here. 9.5/10