Director: Damien Chazelle
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, John Legend, Rosemarie DeWitt
Running Time: 128mins
With great anticipation I finally got around to seeing Damien Chazelle’s latest film, La La Land, and before the Academy Awards Ceremony as well. A rare occurrence to catch a front runner before the awards actually take place! With numerous award wins this film has been earmarked as one to watch out for, and definitely one to watch. Especially on the big screen. But how did it fare in my eyes?
La La Land introduces us to struggling actor Mia (Emma Stone) and journeyman jazz pianist Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) as they are slowly drawn together but also endeavour to follow their dreams of acting stardom and jazz club owning respectively. Set in and around Los Angeles there are some amazing scenes and scenery on display, making some of the dance sequences quite spectacular. Telling the story through seasonal chapters (not that I could tell the difference between Winter and Summer in LA!) we see how the two main characters grow as people and together as a couple over time.
Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone are both great in their roles and do a really good job of holding the camera for almost the entire film. With neither being trained dancers they have done exceptionally well to carry off the choreography to a level that feels natural and effortless. Further kudos must go to Ryan Gosling for learning to play the piano for this role, allowing Chazelle to have his long takes that highlight the playing performance and give it a more realistic feeling.
From the position of now having seen the film you can really see the care and attention that has gone into the crafting of this story, building it all up to the bittersweet finale, and it very nearly pays off. In a scene where I would normally be expected to be emotional I found myself not feeling it as much as I maybe should have. That being said, it is a great scene, and a perfect ending to this film, and will no doubt draw many a tear from the eyes of film-goers.
Damien Chazelle, as he did in Whiplash, has shown his directorial talents in bringing this to life in such a way that it enthralls and entertains thoroughly throughout the two hour plus runtime. There is a good level of humour spread across the film and some really lovely moments. The way he controls the narrative to build to the finale is superb, the way he plays with the aspirations and hopes of Mia and Seb, entwining them with their day to day lives, is wonderful. Chazelle has crafted an ending that helps to elevate this film above the cotton-candy sweetness of other musical films, giving it real heart and braveness in playing out the way it does.
The score is good, if not at once memorable apart from the repeated refrain of “City of Stars” that occurs at numerous points through the film. The highlight, musically, for me was Seb’s piano playing. The emotion that he puts into it is the real deal and it is emphasised when everything else fades away when he is playing, leaving him in his own little world.
On the down side, even though it is a minor issue, I expected to be feeling a lot more at the ending than I did. I should have been holding back the tears (or letting them out) but, strangely, I wasn’t. I don’t know if it is because I hadn’t invested in the characters, whether the musical numbers and dance routines had repeatedly lifted me out of the story and from connecting to Mia and Seb, or if it is just because there is actually happiness wrapped up in the sadness of the nostalgia for a good thing let go.
La La Land is cinematically beautiful, really well acted and performed and with really good dialogue, especially the intricate and witty interactions between Mia and Seb whilst also laying the ground work for a greater love story. It is a wonderful, picturesque, light-hearted, fun-loving, bittersweet musical and it should be experienced, even if musicals aren’t your thing.