La La Land - Review
Review by Rob Carnevale
THE critical fanfare surrounding La La Land has been ringing in people’s ears since the film debuted in Venice in August last year. There is even a chance that, for some, it could be deafening (can it really be that good?), while for others with a healthy disdain of musicals, to which this pays shameless homage, it continues to be a hard sell.
Yet Damien Chazelle’s film is so much more than just a throwback to a golden age of filmmaking. It’s a movie that extols the virtues of the past while keeping an eye on the future. It feels fresh and of its time while tipping its hat to everything from Fred and Ginger to Rebel Without A Cause.
And while several moments do sweep you along on a tidal wave of feel-good romanticism, there’s a bittersweet poignancy underpinning the story that could just as easily leave you wiping a tear away come the closing credits.
For those reasons, and more, Chazelle’s movie is a must-see experience and an instant classic, entirely worthy of the adulation and awards that have come its way.
The story follows struggling wannabe actress Mia (Emma Stone) and passionate but luckless jazz pianist Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) as they look for the opportunity that will help them to realise their dreams. When they eventually meet each other and start a relationship, it’s their enthusiasm for each other’s ambitions that provide each with something of a catalyst for change.
But as their dreams look like becoming a reality, the couple soon realise that there’s a price that may been to be paid.
In the lead roles, Gosling and Stone are note perfect. Stone, in particular, embodies the heartbreak of a woman whose dreams are shattered on an almost weekly – if not daily – basis; the cruelty of the audition process exposed for all to see. And yet, whenever a smile is coaxed, it illuminates the room and your heart.
Gosling, for his part, drifts between the coolness we’ve long come to expect from him with a moodiness that’s befitting a classic style of romantic leading man. He’s steadfast in his determination to stay true to the rules he holds dear, which is romantic in itself. But he’s a dashing gentleman when he needs to be, a playful fool at other moments, and a man who is just as likely to have his dreams trampled upon as realised in compromised ways.
But therein lies the heart of Chazelle’s story too. Dreams are difficult to chase and involve certain sacrifices. Their realisation may well give rise to other sacrifices. And there’s a boldness to a film that is daring enough to offer shading, which doesn’t compromise on its own values, and which strives for a reality amid the magic.
In doing that, La La Land also successfully tap dances that line between recapturing the spirit of the type of films that its young writer-director was inspired by, while surprising you to boot. And in an age where everyone seems to be sprinting towards change and keeping up with innovation, often at the expense of the past, it sounds a timely cautionary note for anyone willing to pay attention: there is much to cherish by holding onto certain values and traditions.
Hence, watching Gosling and Stone emulate the likes of Fred and Ginger has a nostalgic charm that’s utterly endearing, while even the big dance numbers – such as the freeway sequence that sets things in motion – succeed in putting a smile on your face. There’s an energy, at times, that’s invigorating.
Yet if such moments capture the brazen bombast of Chazelle’s last movie, “Whiplash”: (without the vitriol), then La La Land also dazzles in the quieter, subtler moments in between: the spaces in which Chazelle allows his characters the time to grow, to make you fall in love with them, to ride the dream with them and – ultimately – tip your head respectfully, and smile appreciatively, at the bittersweet ironies that come to define their relationship.
La La Land is – without doubt – a modern masterpiece that has plenty to say beyond the glamour and glitz of its promotional campaign. It is a film that everyone and anyone can enjoy and somehow relate to: it resonates as much as it exhilarates.
Running time: 2hrs 8mins
UK Release Date: January 13, 2016