La La Land 2016 Movie Review
Having just gotten back from seeing ‘La La Land’, with a rare day off music college, it came to me that it was one of the best new release/first viewings for me in a while.
Very few films in recent memory has left me leave the cinema with my heart properly warmed, a beaming smile on my face, tears in my eyes, feeling uplifted and properly moved. ‘La La Land’ however has managed that feat. Would also go further to say that it is one of the best modern film musicals after Disney’s Renaissance period in the 90s, and very much a modern classic. Am not surprised at all its award wins and nominations (including being a record breaker at the Golden Globes), and if it does well at the Oscars as well there will be no complaints from me.
‘La La Land’ clicked with me most likely because of my love for golden age Hollywood, musicals (a somewhat maligned genre these days, but while there are a fair share of not particularly good ones there are a bigger number of great ones and even masterpieces), and how it fondly reminded me of what makes me love them so much. Also because of being able to relate to its themes and conflicts, due to being there myself. The talent was also appetising, starring Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, directed by ‘Whiplash’s’ Damien Chazelle and featuring cameo support from JK Simmons (who coincidentally won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for ‘Whiplash), John Legend and Rosemarie DeWitt.
It was just sheer joy to see a film with so much potential deliver on that potential and even more so, having seen a lot of stuff recently film and TV that wasted their potential it was refreshing to see a film actually delivering on it.
Visually, ‘La La Land’ is a gorgeous-looking film, with lots of vibrant colour that leap out at you from the screen while not having too much of a dizzying effect and cinematography that’s not just a dream to behold but inventively done without falling into self-indulgent territory. The music and songs may induce, and has induced, mixed reactions, count me in as somebody who found the songs infectious, emotion-filled and with enough to make one top-tap and hum along.
The musical numbers are winningly choreographed too with non-stop exuberance. The opening number is especially true to this. The script is warm, funny, affectionate and poignant, and also with an honesty. It’s not a complex script, nor did it need to be, and neither does it make the mistake of being too simple. The story is admittedly slight in places, then again so were the stories of even the best golden age musicals and they still managed to be classics because of how everything else was executed and because of the atmosphere.
Something that is true with ‘La La Land’, a film where anybody can relate to its themes. Even more special though is that not only does it pay tribute to musicals and films of the golden age (especially those with MGM), with their bold colour, exuberant marriage of music and dance, it also has a winsomeness and melancholic nature seen in films like ‘The Umbrellas of Cherbourg’ yet does it in a way that will appeal hugely to modern audiences. Loved that the two leads’ relationship and chemistry was much more complex than the love-at-first-sight sort (far from it, more antagonists turned lovers) with a meet cute first encounter (again also not a case).
Chazelle’s direction shows someone with a sheer love for film and film-making, more than evident in execution that is affectionate and full-of-life rather than self-indulgent. The chemistry between the two leads and their performances would need to be good to make the film work. No worries there. Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone look so natural and at ease together, nothing looks false and it is easy to root for them and their conflicts.
Both of them give terrific performances, performances so good that less than great singing was immediately forgotten about. Especially Stone who has never been better in a performance of great expressivity and nuance, so many emotions such as vulnerability, strength, cheekiness, charm and buoyancy with never a hint of a heavy-handed touch. Gosling matches her, if not quite as good, showing a very charismatic presence and an effortless twinkling charm. All the support, although basically cameos, registers memorably.