Rating: 3.5 out of 5
La La Land portrays the love story of Mia, an aspiring actress and Sebastian, a jazz passionate piano player, who are both living in LA but struggling to ‘make it’. Ironically, their initial encounter is not so romantic. Mia flips Sebastian the bird after he aggressively overtakes her on the highway when she doesn’t realise the traffic has started to move. Their subsequent interactions however are slightly less frosty and as Mia [played by Emma Stone] and Sebastian [Ryan Gosling] repeatedly bump into each other around the city, we watch as their relationship blossoms and the two fall in love. Mia encourages Sebastian to turn his dream of opening up a jazz bar into a reality whilst Sebastian pushes Mia to keep her passion for acting alive despite the continual knock backs. As the fear of failure begins to creep in, the couple’s commitment to chasing their dreams is tested. As a result, conflicts between the two arise and they find themselves questioning their relationship and their commitment to each other.
The story of twenty something’s living in LA and trying to catch their big break is somewhat familiar, both in real life and on the big screen. La La Land offers a fresh spin on this concept thanks to it being a romantic musical. Writer and director Damien Chazelle- who is best known for his critically acclaimed 2014 film Whiplash– dispels all notions that romantic musicals need to be so cheesy that they ooze Brie, Camembert and Gruyere in every scene. Regrettably the opening scene doesn’t do much to dispel this notion; as it does in fact feature a rather cringe-worthy, all-singing, all-dancing number on a traffic jammed highway. The scene’s only saving grace is that it’s impressively shot in one take. The loud and somewhat cheesy opening number aside, the songs and accompanying dance routines that follow are charming, classic and are often sung by Gosling and Stone against stunning LA backdrops. If you were to pause the film at any moment, you could easily confuse what’s on screen with some kind of artsy poster. La La Land is a beautiful blend of midnight blues and bright vivid colours which transform Los Angeles into an enchanted city.
As Mia and Sebastian’s story unfolds, Chazelle perfectly depicts their giddy, fairy-tale like journey from friends to lovers. He determinedly zooms in on the couple’s hands as they tentatively move them closer and closer during their first date to the cinema. It should also come as no surprise- given the dark tone of Whiplash– that Chazelle is able to effortlessly darken the film’s mood during its more dramatic moments; which he intensifies with dimly lit settings and a fast, blunt dialogue. What makes this film so gripping is Chazelle’s ability to heighten the tone of each romantic and dramatic scene in line with the highs and lows of the couple’s relationship.
Gosling and Stone are well known for their natural chemistry, which is no less electrifying in this film. Here the duo work best in the intimate scenes where the focus is purely on the dazzling duo bringing Chazelle’s brilliant script to life. Without the complex tap-dance routines and classic music, acting as a distraction; these scenes become so captivating that you wish it’s all the film consisted of. Although this isn’t said to discredit the soundtrack, which is terrifyingly catchy. As a pair, Stone and Gosling are mesmerising. Individually is where I find the two differ. Ryan Gosling’s performance as Sebastian is solid throughout. His character passionately tells Mia that traditional jazz is dying and that he’s determined to keep it alive with his future jazz bar. Gosling delivers this speech which such conviction that you’d think he is a jazz enthusiastic himself. Emma Stone’s performance as Mia doesn’t feel quite as natural. Stone often adopts a doe-eyed, slightly goofy persona to her characters which is what makes them so lovable. She does in the same in La La Land, but a bit too much, giving us what feels like quite a forced performance at times.
Another one the film’s few downfalls is its’ slow pace which we’re forced to endure for the first half of the film. Chazelle purposefully sustains this pace to help enrich Mia and Sebastian’s love story. However after watching slow tracking shot after slow tracking shot, it soon becomes monotonous. Along comes John Legend; he lends both his acting skills and singing voice to the film and injects it with much needed energy. From here, the film’s pace quickens dramatically with Chazelle’s quicker cuts and more varied camera movements.
La La Land speaks on having the guts to follow your dreams and venture into the unknown. And the question of whether you continue to fight for that dream in spite of all rejection. Despite the film’s retro feel-which is enhanced by Gosling donning a suit throughout most of it while singing in front of pastel coloured backdrops- these issues are extremely relatable in today’s society. The majority of our younger generation strive for extremely high levels of success and the idea of an ordinary life is unappealing. Because they want to be revolutionists, the industry seems saturated with clones of young creative individuals. Mia experiences this after an audition, where she walks past a large group of other red-head budding actresses who look just like her. La La Land is a fascinating insight into the turmoil experienced by many of today’s younger generation.
It’s a toss up between the electrifying chemistry of Stone and Gosling, Chazelle’s well rounded writing and directing skills and of course the ever so charming musical numbers that pop up frequently throughout the film, that make it a more than pleasurable watch.