Posted Oct 20 2016

LFF - La La Land

Dir: Damien Chazelle

Starring Emma Sone, Ryan Gosling, J K Simmons, John Legend

In an awards season that has so far seen some scuppered (The Birth Of A Nation), some underwhelm (Manchester By The Scene) and some just plain disappoint (Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk – so we’ve heard), Damien Chazelle’s Hollywood musical throwback is rapidly becoming the beast to beat. And it’s going to be tough to do that.

Chazelle, following up on his Whiplash breakthrough, has stuck with both music and J K Simmons (if only briefly in the latter’s case) and delivered a movie that is both in love with love and the romance of the classic Hollywood musical. Stone is the young actress trying to make it in the la la land of Hollywood; Gosling is the talented but maybe out of time jazz pianist. When they meet, their romance becomes the stuff of movie cliché met with a realistic edge. The first time they dance together, we’re clear that it’s not Astaire and Rogers. But it is something quite beautiful and expressive nonetheless, and something we haven’t seen in a very long time. Certainly not done with such sincerity. Which leads to the significant question – is Chazelle’s film homage, or a modern day reworking of a classic and long out of favour genre? The answer probably is that by being the latter, it can’t help but become something of the former. But it really knows how to embrace its form and plays out a story set in a cynical world in a totally non-cynical manner.

Chazelle sets out the ambition of his movie right from the off, with the opening – a massive production number set spontaneously amongst the denizens of a stalled freeway traffic jam, all of which appears to be shot in one remarkable single take. If Birdman taught us anything, it taught us that the digital odds are this isn’t a singe take, but this is so big, and special, and winning – you don’t really care about the technique. Just the sensation it creates. It also manages to rather neatly introduce its two central players, again as part of this one take. The audience we saw it with just stopped five minutes in and applauded the damn thing! As well they should.

What follows moves from the mundane to the magical (emphasis on the latter) with Gosling, good as he is, wisely taking a back seat to Stone, who is simply magnificent – get that mantelpiece clear missus, it will be filled. Her expressive face, her eyes built to swallow the hearts and tears of audiences, is to the fore here. This is her moment – and she knows it, gives us everything we could ask for – and then so much more.

There are of course flaws on display – not all the songs are as strong as you’d like them to be (although none are clunkers) and Ryan Gosling going on about the wonders of jazz is something most of us could do without hearing. (Though it’s not quite Will Smith’s tearful Bob Marley speech from I Am Legend – and Emma has the good grace to say she doesn’t like jazz, an audience touchstone for many we suspect.)

But nonetheless, La La Land is a remarkable and lovely film. More than that, it’s genuinely moving – in the way that the best Hollywood musicals have always been. And it really knows how to end. With a sincere attempt not to spoil – the final act delivers us Emma’s bravura moment (which becomes the film’s own) followed by an “alternate” ending that will leave nary a heart string not just unplucked but all but ruptured.

In what has shaped up to be a disappointing and divisive Oscar season to date – we can see this going all the way, certainly with Best Film, Director and Actress in its sights. It La La’s to lose. So good in fact, we can even forgive Gosling’s terrible ‘tache!


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