Review(s): La La Land

4 years ago
Aidan Johnson

Somehow, 1950’s and ‘60’s musicals have decided to return to the modern era (all of the ridiculous dancing of that time, with none of the optimism). For those who enjoy cheesy romance musicals with slightly mature themes set in LA, La La Land is for you. Fortunately, this musical is primarily instrumental – and based around jazz, something we can all agree is worthwhile listening to.

Straight off the bat, anything that celebrates jazz is usually a good thing. At the very least, much of the music is very enjoyable – who doesn’t love jazz piano mournfully playing in the background, or a Dixieland inspired jazz group having a blast of a time? There is even more contemporary jazz – something which is depicted as “selling out”, yet is an interesting listen. The primary theme – “City of Stars” – is quite a mournful tune, yet manages to convey both happy and sad moments.

After all, the world does need a bit more jazz.

The plot is in many ways a fairly standard one. Without giving too much away, struggling boy meets struggling girl, things get good, then problems arise. Mainstream musicals often have many tropes, and La La Land is no exception. Fortunately, there is a mature ending that made it more than a run-of-the-mill Hollywood musical. The “villain” of the musical is also not a typical person or group – instead, it was more the enemy of most relationships: time, the work/life balance, and the insurmountable problems of diverging career paths. It was quite moving in fact.

That being said, this is the only musical I have seen that has an alternative timeline. There is a suitable mix of pathos and humour, which is good to see. Throughout the movie, there are plenty of throwaway lines or scenes which are chuckle-worthy, although there is a mix between deliberate humour and overly cheesy salutes to older musicals. This contrasts nicely with the darker themes that run through the show: the brutality of showbiz life, heartless and detached bosses, relying on luck to drag us into the spotlight, dreams and aspirations crushed or perverted by the realities of the world.

Oh, and the title is very well chosen for musical. “La La Land” means “Los Angeles”, but also refers to living in a fantasy world. Whilst the entire of Hollywood could be described thus, the musical also covers this in regards to the romance and the aspirations.

Overall, an enjoyable movie. Well acted, and with an engaging plot (not so much the actual storyline, but the themes held within it), the musical should be an excellent way to start the new year. Equally moving and uplifting, La La Land is something that should be seen by those who want to see jazz returned to its rightful place in the mainstream, as well as by those who enjoy musicals that have bittersweet elements to them and deal with modern themes, whilst still maintaining those older musical elements.

—- Aidan Johnson


La La Land is the third feature-length film from writer/director/wunderkind Damien Chazelle (Whiplash). Set in modern-day Los Angeles, La La Land pays tribute to and ultimately reinvents both classic Hollywood cinema and musicals, as well as several other genres including the romantic comedy.

The film stars Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, again proving that there can be no better on-screen chemistry than what they demonstrate. Gosling is quick, subtle and so believable as jazz-obsessed Sebastian. His musical performances are effortless, with Gosling mastered piano for the role, deeming the use of a piano double unnecessary. However, I truly believe that although La La Land is, for the most part, an ensemble piece, Emma Stone steals the show in every scene in which she is featured. She is positively magnetic in her execution of humour, from the imperfections in her vocals to her prickly vulnerability. Stone’s ability to fit and match so perfectly into this world as movie-loving Mia works to enhance the film’s metanarratives. She is astonishing and this film and this performance will truly come to define her career.

The use of colour in this film is wonderful. With the idea of each character having a separate dream, Mia and Sebastian are regularly bathed in either red or blue light. Red being Mia’s colour and blue being Seb’s. In the musical sequence which features the delightful song ‘A Lovely Night’ (which is now stuck in my head), the pair dance in front a purple L.A. sunset as their colours collide and their dreams change to focus on each other. Chazelle’s world decorated with primary and secondary block colours, best demonstrated in the film’s opening number ‘Another Day of Sun’. Each colour worn by different characters represent the dreams that they are chasing in Los Angeles.

La La Land utilises characteristics of the old Hollywood musical such as the wide tracking shot. Although the execution of these sequences are nothing short of perfect, the film differs from many of its predecessors with the presentation of imperfect subject material. For example, during ‘Someone in the Crowd’ (a delightful “girls getting ready” song), we are led through Mia’s small apartment which she shares with three other aspiring actresses. We glimpse realistic details and imperfections such as an untidy corner or a clothing strap sticking out of a dress. This aspect is consistent throughout the film, grounding it in reality, even during the film’s dream sequences. This small detail sets La La Land apart from its generic counterparts, in addition to Chazelle’s extraordinary screenplay. The dream sequences feel deserved and are so much more moving because we care for the characters and believe in their world which is so rooted in reality. However, this is not to say that La La Land is an entirely happy film. If anything, it is realistic which makes it both joyful and heartbreaking. In both screenings that I was lucky enough to attend, I (discreetly) wept.

Most of all, La La Land is an unequivocal tribute to the Hollywood films and musicals of yesteryear. Chazelle unashamedly references films such as Shall We Dance, An American in Paris, Funny Face, Singin’ in the Rain and Rebel Without a Cause. It is, of course, for people who love the musical genre by someone who worships it. This is not to say, however, that La La Land is only for these people. I truly believe that this film can appeal to everyone.

La La Land is definitely one of my favourite films of the year. It is such a feat of filmmaking and will hopefully shock the genre back to life. Also, it’s just delightful. With Awards Season commencing, La La Land has already won Best Picture at the Critics’ Choice Awards and has been nominated for seven Golden Globes including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress and Best Actor. With the Academy Award nominations on the horizon, it is almost certain that it will receive similar nominations and win many more awards.

Do yourself a favour and see this film. You deserve it.

— Ella Pace


La La Land is in cinemas from Boxing Day, although there are some early screenings around.

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