We all know the score, its January, its cold and miserable, we are carrying post festivity pounds yet our wallets are feeling considerably lighter and to top it all off, we are still licking our wounds from the previous year’s constant assault of bad news, piling one brick after another in a Jenga onslaught that threatened to topple us. Oh and we have to prepare ourselves for the Trump presidency. So La La land has picked just the right time to come into our lives, Damien Chazelle’s modern day musical has come to whisk away the cobweb cynicism, to bring a sense of hope to proceedings and to bring Technicolor joy to the silver screen.
Emma Stone is Mia, a struggling actress in LA who is working as a waitress in a coffee shop on the Warner Bros studio lot, where she daydreams of a starring role and endures humiliation and rejection from one bad audition to another. Between her daily grind, she crosses paths with Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), a jaded jazz pianist who is trying to keep his beloved dying medium alive. At first its less a meet cute than mild annoyance with each other, however as they continue to run into each other, it seems to be fate, their mutual passions for performing gives them a kindred alliance and as the seasons change from winter to spring and through summer their love blossoms. Sebastian has plans for a jazz bar and with his coaxing, Mia decides to stage a one woman play to kick start her acting career, by writing a role for herself but it is their dreams that begin to divide them, their success (and lack of it) comes between them, a bitter pill must be swallowed and they have to follow their hearts and break them in the process.
From its opening gambit, a Fame style musical number amidst an LA traffic jam, you will know whether you will go along with La La Land’s ride, it’s an unashamed homage to the musicals of yesteryear and may not appeal to modern mainstream audiences who are not used to seeing their lead characters burst into song or break out into a freewheeling dance routine. However for those of us that do, will be charmed by its infectious spirit and optimistic energy, it lays its cards out on the table in brightly coloured verve and is an irresistible concoction of gusto performances and beautifully bittersweet storytelling. Both leads bring their game, throwing everything into their roles, Emma Stone uses her hugely expressive eyes to convey an emotional range as Mia, from wide eyed wonder to welling up as life hands her many blows, meanwhile Gosling brings his sardonic wit as Seb, his tendency for acting goofy guards his true feelings of falling hard for Mia and for losing sight of his true passion. The decision to not pick actors who are known for singing and dancing proves to be La La Land’s ace in the hole, whilst Stone and Gosling learnt to sing and dance competently, it is their shortcomings that makes the film all the more endearing, the fragility in Stone’s voice makes her connection to the audience more resonant and Gosling is charismatic in a limited range. Both actors charm, particularly in an early song and dance routine, against the backdrop of the fading LA sun but also within the film’s more sombre moments, an argument over a romantic dinner, framed close up on their faces, is heartbreaking as reality hits home and their optimistic bubble is fractured. Director Damien Chazelle follows up the intense, almost claustrophobic feel of Whiplash with a film dripping with colour and virtuoso cinematography, the camera soars in the opening sequence and continues to impress with one take wonders and culminates in a stunning montage of a life less glimpsed.
La La Land has garnered an abundance of praise but there is also the inevitable backlash in the wings, almost alluded to by Stone’s Mia who, after showing her play to Seb says ‘I think it’s too nostalgic, people might not like it’. Seb simply replies ‘Fuck them’. Fuck them indeed, there will be the haters who say there is a reason they don’t make them like this anymore, but colour me smitten because I fell for it in all its glorious, (old) fashion. Like The Artist before it, it crystallises a moment in time, a moment of pure cinematic joy, one that is hard to repeat (and may not attain repeat viewings) but which doesn’t matter because you will never forget that blissful moment.