Musicals have been a major part of the film industry from the medium’s birth, and are to this day celebrated as one of the most joyous genres to date. Be it Singin’ In The Rain, Cabaret, or even The Blues Brothers, there is always a musical for everyone with all music tastes and preferences. In the case of La La Land, as is similar for a large majority of musicals as a whole, this is one for the jazz fans.
This celebration of classic jazz and its desire for the genre of music to be kept alive and kicking seems to be a nice, comfortable niche for director Damien Chazelle, as evidenced by his previous feature film, Whiplash. However, while these two films share a similar focus on music, success in the industry and the sacrifices one may be required to make in order to achieve said success, they couldn’t be more different. While Whiplash heavily emphasises the physical and emotional trauma experienced by Andrew, as brought on by a culmination of tormenting from his drill sergeant of a band instructor and his own personal destructive need to be the next best thing in music, La La Land opts for a more light-hearted approach. Not a single drop of blood is spilled, cursing is kept to a strict minimum and those who wish to succeed merely dream of a better life, as opposed to breaking their own mental states like Whiplash. The stakes are much lower here and it works for the genre it so expertly, effortlessly masters.
However, while La La Land clearly enjoys its callbacks and resemblance of other musical classics, it certainly establishes itself as a modern classic without the help of other films it excellently mirrors. Chazelle has stated in interviews that, when in the writing process, he attempted to capture the magic of golden Hollywood, whilst maintaining a grounded, relatable story. In essence: a colourful, sing-song fest with realistic elements, and he absolutely achieves this. The film manages to expertly blend the unbelievable, fantastical musical sequence (best examples being the opening and Planetarium scenes) with the more down-to-earth, human moments (obvious example being the ending). This is what makes La La Land special – different to other musicals of a similar style. Its uniqueness will no doubt assist in cementing this film as a classic in years to come.
Wow. I am nearly 400 words in and I haven’t even talked the most important aspect of any musical and is always the make-or-break of the genre: the music. Fear not, dear reader, for days after my viewing of his movie, I still catch myself whistling City of Stars or humming Someone In The Crowd, and I’m even listening to the soundtrack as I write this very review. Needless to say, its Golden Globe win for Best Original Score is absolutely deserved. Leads Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling give great singing performances, along with everyone on screen, and it’s clear that the crew took particular time in making absolutely sure everyone performed at their best. Furthermore, the musical set pieces are incredibly well-designed. Chazelle has stated that on of the aims of his musical was to film the musical numbers and dance sequences in one take, or craft it to seem like it is so, as a callback to how the classics were made. Of course, any one-shot-take with a level of layered intricacy comparable to The Revenant is bound to be impressive. The complexity of some of these dance numbers is jaw-dropping and worth the price of admission alone, and then some.
Speaking of great performances (weak segway I know, I’m trying my best), Stone and Gosling are mesmerising as the lead couple, both exhibiting Oscar-worthy performances and a wonderful, watchable chemistry to boot. It was nothing short of a delight to observe these characters develop and learn from one another and events occurring around them. It was very easy to root for both of these characters, and the audience truly feels the punches both Mia and Sebastian are forced to endure, and jump for joy (not literally, of course, for we are a decent folk who abide by the cinema code of conduct) with every victory. And, of course, it goes without saying that the ending is exceptional, effective at being simultaneously agonising and powerfully poignant. I have no shame in admitting this conclusion brought a silent tear to my eye, and the ending alone not only consolidated my understanding of this film’s utter mastery, it prompted me to watch it once more, and interestingly, my opinion on the ending changed upon a second viewing. Initially, I interpreted it as a sad closure to an otherwise happy narrative, further affirming Damien Chazelle’s efforts in creating a more realistic musical, however the second time around, I saw it as an encouragement that things will always turn sunny side up and that everything will be all right in the end. If you are struggling to find a reason to care about the story and characters for a majority of the movie, I promise that this ending will improve your understanding of the entire film.
Resisting the urge to imagine up another cringe-inducing pun, La La Land is simply splendid. A wonderful love letter to the golden years of cinema, as well as an incredible good time, concluded with a philosophical thought implanted into your mind to consider as you leave the theatre, there is not another film out currently in the UK that I could recommend more.