It’s been called a ‘sun-drenched masterpiece’, it swept the board at the Golden Globes and both critics and audiences can’t heap enough praise on it. So, does La La Land stand up to the hype?
It exceeds it. Big time.
When I heard Whiplash director, Damien Chazelle, wrote and directed a ‘fun, musical rom-com’ starring Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling my excitement began to build. Whiplash is one of my favourite films, I think it’s a work of genius, and I’m a big fan of both Stone and Gosling so I was sold. I did wonder, though, at the huge difference between the knife point tension so prevalent in Whiplash and the light-hearted whimsy we’re used to seeing in rom-coms.
Well… I needn’t have given it any thought because it becomes apparent very early on that La La Land soars beyond the expectations we have of the beloved rom-com sub genre. We open with a musical number that’s so high energy you won’t be able to keep from tapping your toe; the energy of the performers is infectious and if there were hidden cameras in the cinema I’m pretty sure they would have caught me with a wide, goofy smile on my face. I’m glad there weren’t, though, as nobody needed to see my ugly crying that came later on.
It’s a stunning start and it just gets better from there. We meet our protagonists: Mia (Stone), an aspiring actress who’s been chasing her dream for six years and strives for cheery optimism but can’t quite shake the nag of cynicism nipping at her heels, and Sebastian (Gosling), a passionate jazz musician who dreams of opening his own jazz club, preserving the music and playing it as it should be heard. Of course, things haven’t gone to plan and he spends his evenings playing a strict setlist of Christmas carols underneath stern boss, Bill (J.K. Simmons – much to my delight!).
After a series of chance encounters and a quick appearance from Finn Wittrock, Mia and Sebastian’s lives become (inevitably) intertwined in a romance fuelled by magic and passion and a mutual respect of each other’s dreams.
I’m not going to divulge any more about the plot itself, as I went in blind and I think you should too. With that said, I still want to talk about what makes La La Land such a special film.
So often films are almost perfect but there’s something that holds them back: the film looks beautiful but lacks heart, the actors are great but the script could have done with two more rounds of edits, the music is stunning but the acting wooden, you know the drill. In La La Land, everything shines, from the soundtrack (buy it, play it to death, learn every word) to the acting (Mia’s audition monologue, the moment between Mia and Sebastian in the cinema, both Griffith Observatory scenes) to the writing, the colour palette, the costumes and more. Every tiny element of La La Land comes together to create something truly unforgettable, a journey that makes you laugh, cry, fall in love with these characters, will them to succeed, urge them to believe in their dreams, make you remember your own and wonder why you aren’t chasing them yourself.
If a film does its job it should change you in some way, and when I walked out of the cinema after seeing La La Land I felt as though something had shifted ever so slightly, a dash of extra motivation and longing that hadn’t been there before. It made me feel determined, excited and a little bit afraid of the future, which I think it exactly how Chazelle wants us to feel.
My final thoughts? One: I can’t wait to put the soundtrack on and play it non-stop for the next six months. Two: It’s going to be a very, very long time before I get that final scene out of my head.