Review- La La Land (Damien Chazelle)

 

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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.

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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.

Five of the best…..Coats in Film

 

I was recently watching the brilliant Slow West and was very taken with Ben Mendelsohn’s coat that his character wears. It almost threatened to steal the scenes from him. And then it got me thinking about the clothes of certain characters and in particular the coats that they wear. So as we continue to brave the wet and the cold of the winter and wrap ourselves in our own outerwear, here is a list of my favourite coats from the cinematic catwalk.

James Dean-Rebel without a Cause (1955) 

Iconic looks don’t come more iconic than that of James Dean as Jim Stark in the 1955 teen angst classic Rebel without a Cause. Along with the white shirt and blue jeans, the red bomber jacket Dean wears as Stark became a beacon for a disillusioned generation, carrying with it a plethora of symbolism. From the danger that Stark represents to the authorities and to his elders ( that he cannot relate to), to an audience that were experiencing a wavering in puritanical values, the shift in post World War II America society is all encapsulated within that red jacket.  Lit by the studio Technicolor of the time, Dean oozes sexuality and appealed to both women and men with an ambiguity that filtered onto the screen, as well as off screen, and which furthered his status as the role model for an ambivalent juvenile up rise in America. That Dean only completed three films in his blazingly short career before his death in 1955 meant we would forever associate Dean as the rebel in the red coat, creating hundreds of wannabes in his crimson wake.

Oscar Isaac- A Most Violent Year (2015)

If there was an award for best supporting outerwear, last year it may well have gone to Oscar Isaac’s full length camel hair coat in A Most Violent Year. In J C Chandor’s crime thriller Isaac plays Abel Morales, an immigrant businessman trying to keep his business afloat during New York in 1981, the city’s most lethal and violent 12 months in history. Throughout the film his coat becomes the ultimate symbol of the American Dream, a classy cover up that belies his status and also a nod to the Pacino era of gangster attire yet, while there is nefarious activity all around him, Abel tries to keep his moral compass abreast in his double breasted. In one scene, he witnesses first hand an attack on one of his trucks, sabotage on his business and a panicked chase on foot ensues. As Abel traverses waste land, the city’s back-streets and subways, his coat remains constant, the armour that keeps him from crumbling and which keeps him chasing his dream and also which stops him giving in to the worst fate of all-failure.

The Pink Ladies- Grease (1978)

It may now be the costume that has launched a thousand hen nights and which keeps fancy dress companies in business but there was a time when the pink lettered jacket was the coolest item a young impressionable girl could want. Yes I may be talking about myself (but also for many of other ladies) when I was a kid, the Pink Ladies were the girl gang to be in and to wear one of those jackets was a very enticing lure. Before The Spice Girls mania in the 90s where teenage girls decided if they were Scary, Baby, Sporty etc, we had already debated whether we were a Rizzo, Jan or Marty and coveted the accompanying jacket. Of course we have all grown up now and realised that perhaps girl gangs are not something to aspire to, that they may lead to exclusion and hierarchy akin to the mean girls who also are prone to the pink uniform. Yet every now and then the temptation to throw on the Pink Lady jacket and belt out a tune is something that can’t be denied.

Ryan Gosling- Drive (2011)

Before Nicholas Winding Refn’s Drive, Ryan Gosling had made some headway into shaking off his romantic lead title that had been bestowed to him after The Notebook. He was choosing leftfield and artistic turns in films such as (the underrated) Lars and the Real Girl, Half Nelson and Blue Valentine however Gosling cemented major cool points and an army of new admirers as the driver in Winding Refn’s contemporary classic. Gosling’s character instantly became iconic and part of this was down to the scorpion emblazed bomber jacket that he wears, a look that shouldn’t work but somehow did and which has now spawned a multitude of copycats. The look of the jacket was a collaboration between Winding Refn and Gosling who wanted a satin jacket that would be visible at night, this would be the driver’s armour and would help Gosling establish and become the character. They also wanted the jacket to feature an animal symbol but after Winding Refn watched Scorpio Rising with his costume designer, they realised that had to be the choice to adorn the driver’s back and so a star item of cinematic clothing was born. With his leather driving gloves and clad in his jacket, Gosling’s creates a neo noir superhero for the hip generation.

Gwyneth Paltrow- The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)

We all know Wes Anderson loves a certain look and when it comes to what his characters wear his films are peppered with pastel hues and detailed costume design, each piece is thought through. The Royal Tenenbaums is no different with each member of this dysfunctional family clad in a certain uniform, from Ben Stiller’s tracksuited angry dad to Luke Wilson’s jaded former tennis pro Richie, but it is Gwyneth Paltrow as Margot Tenenbaum that makes the biggest fashion impression, no mean feat in an Anderson film. Margot is the adopted daughter of the Tenenbaums and her clothes are an extension of this, she has a non conformity to her look, a feeling of an outsider and a rebel which is topped off by her full length mink coat (which I really hope its faux, I don’t want to advocate the use of animal fur). By wearing simple striped dresses and layering the heavy coat over the top, it creates contradictions that are central to the character of Margot, she is distant but wants to be loved, a loner but part of the family, she looks like she has raided her mother’s dressing up box yet teams this with heavy eye make up and a chain smoking edgy past. She is a girl who wore the coat as a child and continued this through adulthood, it is the part of her identify that she can control.  It’s hard not to want to be dress like many of Anderson’s characters but if I ever do (which I darn intend to) Margot would be my choice, albeit in a faux fur style.