A mere two years since Damien Chazelle scooped up several Oscars with Whiplash – only his second feature film – the director returns with La La Land, looking set to dominate next month’s award ceremony. Starring Ryan Gosling’s charm and Emma Stone’s charisma, La La Land is set in contemporary Hollywood and follows two frustrated artists who find refuge in one another from the endless soul-crushing gigs and awkward, unsuccessful auditions. Mia is following her ever-dwindling dream of becoming an actress, whilst serving the occasional starlet a cappuccino in a coffee shop on a large film studio allotment. Seb’s passion for the purity of jazz has led him to being a talented and original pianist playing to disinterested audiences in late night cocktail bars. They drive each other mad before driving each other to chase their dreams. With dreams comes tensions and complications in this enchanting tale of life, love and last chances. Whiplash was a once in a decade type of movie and its an impressive feat for Chazelle to have followed it up with something so quickly and so spectacular. Blatantly inspired by Jacques Demy’s The Umbrellas of Cherbourg and filled with long musical dance sequences reminiscent of An American in Paris, there is lots to love about La La Land. Above all else its decadent and shameless escapism when our world feels more imprisoned than ever. The score is exceptional – simultaneously magical and haunting, much like the story at its heart. Awash with pink and purple sunsets and contrasting neon and muted tones, the look and sound of La La Land captures both the film’s pain and pleasure which we find in a narrative circling around sacrifices that are necessary in life, love and art. The music we experience is so tender and rich, feeling almost too fragile for the story and the performances it partners.
As a hardcore lover of the musicals of a previous Hollywood, I feel like La La Land has been a long time coming. I had high hopes, having been taken aback by The Last Five Years two years ago, (another contemporary and original musical which flew miles under the radar in comparison to Chazelle’s latest). Watching La La Land felt like watching a Hollywood musical through a sheet of clingfilm. I could see its beauty and appreciate the craft and construction but somehow couldn’t break through to its heart. I felt permanently somewhat distant due to a surprising and saddening insincerity. There are two major obstacles standing in the way of the film’s authenticity: the central performances and the contrived narrative. Neither Stone nor Gosling do anything wrong per say – Gosling is enjoyably comical and Stone’s performance is filled with a depth and a vulnerability – yet together, they lack romantic chemistry. Instead, I felt I was witnessing really good friends have fun making a movie together instead of two fictional characters falling in love. There are no other performances worth commenting on because it really is Stone and Gosling’s movie – they do good work but it’s too obviously the work of an enthusiastic trio, include Chazelle. I really rather enjoyed La La Land despite finding it flawed by the artificial. For me, it lacked the real ‘oomph’ I so desired but I can’t deny that on multiple occasions it made my heart beat faster and my eyes quite soggy.
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