Director Damian Chazelle (Whiplash) launches us into La La Land, with ‘Another Day in the Sun,’ a sweeping and epic opening number, set on a gridlocked LA freeway overpass, where the drivers leap out of their vehicles to sing and dance about chasing their dreams. It is big, bold and brass and when it reaches its crescendo, you will need all your self control not to burst into applause.
This, in many ways, sets the scene for the rest of the film, which follows Mia (Emma Stone), an aspiring screenwriting actress and Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), a jazz pianist with desires of opening his own club, and their intensely passionate relationship which fights for space between their ongoing pursuits of individual dreams.
Let’s cut to the chase, this is fantastic feel good stuff and in many ways the type of film that Hollywood doesn’t make anymore. It is an unapologetically positive, old-fashioned musical, blended with modern day sensibilities. Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling simply sizzle together on the screen and have finally found a film which fully embraces their chemistry.
Stone, in particular, gives a career-best performance. She quickly draws you in, and you share in her anticipation, elation and crushing disappointments that come from the endless rounds of auditions – she is funny one moment, and genuinely heartbreaking the next.
Gosling is a little more reserved, though so is Sebastian, but the results of his three months of piano lessons prior to the shoot speak for themselves. Yet let’s be honest, no one does smouldering quite like Gosling, who again shows that perhaps he was born a few decades too late, as he fits the role of a brooding jazz pianist like a glove.
Chazelle feels like he is directing with the grace of a conductor. He steps back and gives his actors the space they need, though still manages to find the small details amongst the grand excesses of the more elaborate numbers. These are covered in luxurious long shots and showcase the distinct talents of his cast. The closing reel in particular, is worth the price of admission alone. It is almost akin to a short film within the wider narrative and is quite astonishing in what it achieves in such a short time.
While Chazelle attempts to balance this almost magical realism with the practical realities that come from stepping off that bus, through taking the time to highlight what you may lose or sacrifice in the long run, there are moments when it may feel a little too saccharine for some tastes.
However, these are easily forgiven, as La La Land does what good cinema is supposed to do, which is provoke an emotional response. Considering what is happening in the world at the moment, La La Land may well be the tonic we need, and I challenge anyone not to leave the cinema in a happier and more buoyant mood than when they entered.
La La Land is a gloriously uplifting musical, which dares to dream. The result is a delightful, dance of a film, which is perfect Christmas holiday fodder.
Review by Will Malone
- Director – Damian Chazelle
- Starring – Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone
- Writer – La La Land
- Year – 2016
- Running Time – 128 mins
This review was originally published on Canberra Film Blog on 26/12/16.