We had the good fortune to see La La Land at BFI London Film Festival 2016 (and again since, yes it is that good!), where it was widely acknowledged as the best film of the festival.
Director Damien Chazelle, (remember him from his tour de force jazz homage, Whiplash?) brings this bittersweet, witty and melodic love letter to the golden era of Hollywood musicals wraps it up in stardust, drops in Emma Watson and Ryan Gosling and voila a glittering jewel of a movie emerges.
Before I get into the review, I have to confess, I have no love of the musical genre. Indeed, I cannot thinks of one made this century that I would be happy to sit through again and that includes Wolverine, Gladiator and The Danish Girl hitting the high notes in Les Miserables. However, La La Land has won me over.
The opening song and dance set piece on the gridlocked LA freeway is impressive in its scale and from there on in it is a film that opens like a flower with each petal revealing something new.
Emma Stone plays Mia, an aspiring actress serving lattes to movie stars in a studio lot coffee shop. She juggles her work and stretches the patience of her boss as she scrambles to audition for second-rate parts, while Ryan Gosling plays an idealistic jazz musician who ekes out a living playing piano in dingy bars and in an 80s synth tribute band.
The brilliance of the film is in the mundanity of the two principal figures’ lives and the way in which they fleetingly cross paths in an opening chapter of mishaps and setbacks that help frame them as hopeless, idealist wannabes trying to make it against a saccharine LA backdrop – in some ways it is reminiscent of Francis Ford Coppola’s One From the Heart .
The camera work on La La Land is superb and perfectly complements Chazelle’s paean to the heyday of the MGM musical. Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone’s dance sequences are perhaps the weakest elements of this tribute but it matters not within the context of the film. I know neither can sing, or dance, but I completely bought into the fantasy.
Long-time Chazelle collaborator Justin Hurwitz’s intoxicating score is an ever-present friend throughout the film, effectively conveying that which is not spoken by Gosling and Stone. The awards buzz around La La Land is there for good reason; it is a wonderful piece of escapist fantasy and though the acting is light and the plot would find plenty of space on the head of a pin. It is what it is; a musical that is uplifting, melancholic and funny. It is also beautifully realised and most definitely worth the price of admission!
La La Land in cinemas from Thursday 12 January 2017