I always feel like I’m taking a risk when watching a musical on screen. I don’t entirely trust the frivolity of the genre, and so my feeling of misgiving in the opening scene of La La Land.
In fact, three songs in and I thought I could go ahead and write the review, the film seemed that formulaic and the songs that unoriginal. But this was a set-up with Old Hollywood attributes and homages, there to introduce us to Mia (Emma Stone), a wannabe actress.
When the focus switched to include a brooding jazz musician, struggling to pay the rent, the musical took off in such a way that I was prepared to follow it anywhere.
La La Land is an innovatively imagined love story between Mia and Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), as well as a love story between artists and their art form. Mia’s dream is to make it in Hollywood; Sebastian wants to own a jazz club and keep what’s classic alive.
Coming to terms with their dreams and deciding on the give-it-everything-you’ve-got approach, they’re incredibly nostalgic characters, and this becomes a theme the two discuss, thus allowing the film to make fun of itself: ‘Is it too nostalgic? It feels too nostalgic. Are people going to like it?’ / ‘F*** em.’
In their third film together, Stone and Gosling are ridiculously and fabulously intense. With such chemistry from such fine actors, it’s impossible not to be drawn into their characters and really care about their relationship.
The direction of Damien Chazelle, who also wrote the screenplay (and likewise explored jazz in his Oscar-nominated debut film Whiplash), is pretty magical and the choreography is just so good.
Because music is such a focus in the film (the scene where Gosling explains jazz to Mia leaves you feeling utterly inspired), composer Justin Hurwitz really had to nail the original scores. And he did. They’re full of emotion and whimsy, and I predict he’ll be recognised for them in 2017.
And I can’t forget to mention John Legend, who adds that extra musical sensation as Keith, the living metaphor of the new jazz Sebastian so fears.
This is serious filmmaking with a heck of a lot of buoyancy. A true movie-going experience. Take the risk with La La Land. Let it win you over. Completely.
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