This weekend, I went to see La La Land. And when I left the cinema, the feelings I held, I imagine, were very similar to those felt by audiences witnessing motion picture musicals for the first time back in the turn of the last millennium.
(Disclaimer: while I will indulge in fairly minor spoiler territory, I won’t be going into detail with the plot points. I loved going in to watch La La Land with fresh eyes and ears, but reading this review won’t take away the magic if you haven’t seen it yet, I promise)
There was so much hype around it, basically all the American podcasts I listen to have been mentioning it at one point or another in the last month or so. And let’s face it, anything with Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone was going to send me running to the theatres anyway. But, this time, I decided to go in pretty much completely blind. I watched absolutely no trailers (except the 20 second sponsored clips you sometimes get on Instagram) or watched any interviews or listened to any of the soundtrack. Apart from the anecdotal musings of ‘it’s really quite good’, I pretty much didn’t know exactly what to expect.
I wasn’t disappointed at all. La La Land is such a unique gem in and of itself. Set in modern day Los Angeles, we watch on as a bunch of idealists, two in particular, tackle what it’s like to follow your dream in such a competitive market. Taking inspiration from Old Hollywood and Jacques Demy’s French jazz musicals, it is nostalgic yet fresh, lively yet heartfelt. It’s being described my many as a future classic, one that generations after us will look back on in the same awe that we look back on Singing In The Rain. There’s talks about adapting it into a stage show for Broadway and West End. Even people who don’t like musicals have been raving about it.
I had watched Whiplash only a week or so before seeing La La Land, not knowing that they were both directed by Damien Chazelle. Other than their obvious jazz connections (and the subtle wink that is J.K .Simmons, who appears in both films), they are very different films. Whiplash had me on the edge of my seat in anxious anticipation, while La La Land had me on the edge of my seat in pure delight, wanting to leap into the screen to join in on the action.
I think the extraordinary performances by both Gosling and Stone was always going to be a winner. They share an unbelievable onscreen chemistry that you can’t take your eyes off, and with their quick feet, it’s no wonder they are being compared to a modern-day Fred and Ginger. Mia (Stone) is an aspiring actress, struggling through audition after audition when she’s not working the tills in a cafe of the Warner Brothers lot. Seb (Gosling) is a jazz pianist, a “phoenix rising from the ashes”, and slightly stubborn about his need to keep “pure jazz” alive by opening his own club. Despite getting off to a rocky start, they reluctantly fall in love, in that magic, old-school musical kind of way. While neither Ryan or Emma are stand-out singers, the rawness of their voices adds to the integrity of the film. After all, neither of their characters are supposed to be singers, it would feel a bit too perfect if they belted out their songs in a Broadway bravato.
The soundtrack is still completely listenable though, in fact, I would say more than just listenable, I currently have it on repeat at every single opportunity! The score is so dreamy and nostalgic, while the bigger numbers have me tapping my feet in a faux quick step. I used to take jazz and modern dance classes when I was younger, and oh how I wish I had the opportunity to carry it further after watching this film. The music in La La Land feels like it could have been taken straight from an old black and white movie at times, but the jazz and modern nuances bring you right back into the now.
What I really enjoyed most of all, is the themes that they explored within the film. The brutal realities of pursing your dream, whether you push yourself to breaking point, or go a different way to cash in. In one of the film’s big climaxes, Mia’s audition, she sings, “A bit madness is key, to give us new colours to see.” And I think that rings true to any artist, whether your medium is painting, acting, singing, dancing or writing. We all have to be a little mad to do what we do, to colour the world into a new perspective. Another line that resonated with me is when Seb told Mia, “People like things that other people are passionate about.” I can’t count the amount of times I’ve been engulfed in a conversion about a subject I knew nothing about, but was so invested because my conversational partner was speaking about it with true, unadulterated passion.One of the best things in the world, in my opinion, is watching someone talk about something they well and truly love, and La La Land really encapsulates everything about that.
I’m usually quite reluctant to give anything 5 stars, because since art is so subjective, it’s hard to put things into boxes based on how ‘objectively good’ it is. However, to me, La La Land deserves 5 stars, because it just captures everything I love about life, romance, music and film perfectly into this little time capsule gem.
I would strongly recommend you go out and see it in cinemas, rather than wait until the DVD release. There’s something about sitting in the dark theatre, engulfed in the beautiful score and drenched in the gorgeous colours of the cinematography, that feels wholly unique to any other film-watching experience you will ever have.