Musicals, especially stage musicals, have become incredibly popular in the past few decades. Hamilton made learning history “cool” again by modernising it musically; Wicked revealed the story behind the Wizard of Oz through emotional, storytelling ballads and Spiderman the Musical…happened. The silver screen was also once honoured with the presence of wonderfully catchy and timeless musicals such as West Side Story, Singin’ in the Rain and The Sound of Music. Recent entries into this genre haven’t been necessarily awful but they haven’t been entirely original either, and although Into the Woods and Jersey Boys were fantastic, the former was once a novel and the latter was adapted from its stage counterpart. The refreshing and refined insanity of early comedy-musicals is absent from our modern movie musicals. It is clear that it is Director Damien Chazelle’s divine right to inoculate musical nonsense and magic back into film as La La Land, his third feature film, is the perfect, nostalgic template for what a musical movie should be.
La La Land follows the story of Mia (Emma Stone, a familiar face from Birdman, The Amazing Spiderman series and Easy A) a stubbornly optimistic, and hopeful potential actress who spends her days working at a café hoping to someday be called back for an audition and Sebastian (Ryan Gosling, Hollywood sweetheart seen in The Notebook, Crazy Stupid Love and Drive), a musician who is just as stubborn about opening his own jazz bar any time soon. A string of coincidences bring the pair together in lovey-dovey, mushy romance. Many tales of romance have been told before in film (including Crazy, Stupid, Love which also had Stone and Gosling fall in love) but Mia and Sebastian’s is fairly unique in how it is displayed. Very little time is spent on fine-tuning their chemistry through long and drawn out scenes, which keeps the film’s pacing at a steady beat.
Chazelle is self-aware of similar love stories with homages to 1942’s Casablanca shown throughout the film, as well the movie’s climax alluding to an iconic scene from the classic. The two leads in this film are wholly relatable. Mia’s pursuit of Hollywood fame has been seen numerous times and Sebastian’s allegiance to 20th Century jazz is similar to the elitist teenagers of Perks of Being a Wallflower and the snobby vinyl-addicts in High Fidelity but the characters at their core are loveable and are worth caring for. Many would find the 6-year search for a dream role in a movie relatable, or some would find the pressures of picking a steady income over what you are passionate for frustrating. The two are flawed by their impulsiveness towards each other and their desires to be famous and are often unaware of what is right in front of them. The characters’ passions are their most stark character traits but it’s ultimately what separates the pair; they can’t balance their lifelong dreams with each other. The film wonderfully blends issues surrounding Hollywood and in music into one, digestible narrative. A performance from John Legend, and perhaps a slight nod to the hit song “Uptown Funk”: “Start A Fire”, critiques the modern notion of nostalgia by questioning Sebastian’s devotion to keeping jazz “alive”. Mia’s lack of self-confidence in her acting ability nearly leads her to miss the acting opportunity of a lifetime. These interesting also keep the movie subversive and aware. Despite this, any semblance of unoriginality or cliché is masked by the film’s delicious and delightful style and soundtrack.
This movie really is a visual and auditory delight. The movie’s opening number, “Another Day Of Sun” is a jazzy and toe-tapping insight into dreaming yourself away when stuck in peak hour Californian traffic. The use of what resembles a continuous shot to film the mesmerising song and dance is not only magnificent to see but it is a glorious salute to classics such as “Good Morning”. This musical prologue encapsulates the films colour spectrum-exhausting visual style, showing a kaleidoscopic rainbow of moving, splendid colours. As the visual style honours classic musicals, the soundtrack glorifies 1940’s jazz music, much like Sebastian does. The performances of the musical soundtrack are spellbinding, and resemble its MGM musical counterparts, mainly due to them being recorded in the same studio. The vocal execution from Stone and Gosling is not amazingly perfect and this underplayed and subtle singing style only adds charm to their performances. The song “A Lovely Night”, which has Mia and Sebastian lamenting over how their night would’ve been better if they hadn’t met, includes a wonderful dancing number, a beautiful backdrop and a charming but slightly awkward duet from the two leads. Their dance scenes together are endearing and see the duo tap dancing together, ballroom dancing on an imaginary ballroom stage, waltzing, and even flying through space. These numbers smartly replace lengthy and boring exposition, eliminating all boredom.
The costuming, cinematography, lighting and set design really makes the movie’s visuals fetching. Los Angeles’ alluring neon lights, sunsets and street corners are pure eye-candy. In a massive contrast from Chazelle’s Best Film nominated 2014 film Whiplash’s dingy green’s and orange’s, the colour scheme of this film is a lovely draw. The visual style of this film would make Gene Kelly jealous and it is an awe-inspiring testament to what is possible through the advancement of film technology. Directors of the 60’s like Jean-Luc Godard would be delighted to know that Chazelle has perfected their contributions to film-noir and film style some 50 years later. This film can be recommended on its visual style alone, as it was an absolute treat to simply look at. The visual style is reflected in the film’s title: La La Land. Although the film is a “la la” musical, and is set in LA, the visuals and musical numbers almost appear like fugue states, or temporary pauses in time. Whenever a number starts, it’s almost as if a character’s head is in “La la land” or “Cloud cuckoo land”, and this shows in the numbers’ quirky and outlandish visuals which is lovely to watch.
Truly, this film is recommended for all who love movie and all who love music. It is an amazing filmic achievement and deserves all the praise it is currently earning. La La Land is heart-warming and then suddenly heartbreaking but then heart-warming and then sadly heartbreaking again but is absolutely worth the heartbreak. The film’s ending sequence is also an incredibly emotional but phenomenal moment that is completely worth the entire film to see. It should be the best of the year; a shining and original pearl amongst a year of depressingly lacklustre remakes, colourless sequels, and muddy soft-reboots. It’s remarkable to see such a well executed original idea in 2016.