LA LA LAND

Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: Damien Chazelle

Stars: Emma Stone, Ryan Gosling, J K Simmons, Tom Everett Scott.
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The new film from director Damien Chazelle (the superb Whiplash) is a charming and ambitious take on the old fashioned technicolour Hollywood musical and it harks back to those classic musicals of the 50s and 60s, a bygone era of glamour and romance. The film is inspired by the likes of Jacques Remy’s classic The Umbrellas Of Cherbourg and Stanley Donen’s Singin’ In The Rain, and is steeped in nostalgia. There are numerous in-jokes about Hollywood and the movie industry itself. This is a film that explores themes of fame, ambition, following your dreams, disappointment, and nostalgia.
La La Land reunites Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, from Crazy Stupid Love and Gangster Squad, as a couple of struggling artists, and the pair seem to easily click as a pair of romantic leads. While they click on screen, I thought they had more chemistry in Crazy Stupid Love.
Mia (Stone) is an aspiring actress who works at a coffee shot on the studio backlot while auditioning for roles and waiting for her big break. She also aspires to write and produce her own one-woman show. Sebastian (Gosling) is a musician who hopes to one day set up his own jazz club. He reveres the traditional jazz classic of the past.
The couple first meet during a traffic jam on an LA freeway, where he impatiently honks his horn at her. Their second meeting, in a jazz club where he plays piano, is also brief and curt as he has just been fired by the manager (a cameo from J K Simmons) and angrily brushes past her. But the third time they meet seems to be the charm for the couple. He is playing as part of an 80s cover band at a pool party she attends. They exchange words and chat as he walks her to her car. Over an impromptu dance routine they fall in love.  Mia attends numerous auditions, while Seb joins a jazz band led by Keith (John Legend), an old school friend. The film traces the ups and downs of their romance as their careers take diverse turns as well. Their cute romance is tested by their own thwarted ambitions.
There are some stylish musical numbers bursting with energy, especially the eye-popping, colourful and energetic opening sequence set amidst a traffic snarl up on a clogged LA freeway. The opening song Another Day Of Sun sets a vibrant and upbeat tone, and this carefully choreographed eight minute sequence was apparently shot in one continuous take. Chazelle used renowned Broadway lyricists Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (who wrote the original songs for the recent animated Trolls) for the lyrics.
The couple of superbly staged dance numbers, and a magical sequence that sees Mia and Seb dance through the stars at the Griffiths Observatory (a location that played a key role in Rebel Without A Cause), will have older audiences harking back to the “good old days” when the likes of Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly and Ginger Rogers graced the screen. As he did with Whiplash, Chazelle’s regular editor the Oscar-winning Tom Cross again deftly matches the rhythm of the music with the images unfolding on the screen. The audacious ending consists of a dazzling montage that deconstructs the romance from an alternative viewpoint and serves as a counterpoint to what preceded it, and brings an almost surreal quality to the material.
La La Land has been gorgeously shot by cinematographer Linus Sandberg (who worked with David O Russell on both American Hustle and Joy, etc) who captures some gorgeous imagery, and his widescreen lensing uses Los Angeles as a fabulous backdrop. He also shows us a different view of LA, which is busy being demolished, losing its soul and its history, which tinges the material with a touch of melancholy. La La Land is also something of a love letter to Los Angeles, the city of (sometimes broken) dreams. The film is structured around the four seasons, and Sandberg cleverly uses a rich but different colour palette for each season.
The opening number is staged with such energy and verve that it is a shame that the romance itself seems a little cliched and formulaic and falls back on the cliched structure of the old fashioned romantic tropes. With this cute romantic musical Chazelle aims for the stars but does not quite reach. However he shows that he is certainly a talented and original filmmaker. La La Land is a feel good musical romance that mixes fantasy and realism and is certainly entertaining stuff, but it is not the best film of the year as many critics have been claiming.

★★★☆

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