Review of 'La La Land'

lala.jpg Sebastian (Ryan Gosling showing an occasional spark of emotion) is an unemployed jazz musician dreaming of opening his own jazz bar. Mia (Emma Stone) works at a coffee shop on the back lot of a film studio who dreams of becoming an actress though is continually rejected. One day Mia is passing by a bar and hears a piano so goes in to see who is playing only to witness Sebastian being fired for playing off the manager's set list. They strike up a friendship that soon turns to love but with their dreams threatening to tear their relationship apart, will it last?

A movie that begins (after the nostalgic “Filmed in Cinemascope” title sequence) with a traffic jam on a freeway where the drivers break out into song (“Another Sunny Day”) and dance amongst the cars is going to mean you will either love or hate this movie but it is worth your while giving this a chance. This is a modern take on the musical genre where there are still the staged set pieces for the music but they are in far more contemporary surroundings. Make no mistake about it, this is apologetically a musical with the happy smiling faces and up-beat songs thrown in your face. Otherwise it is quite low key with Gosling and Stone putting on good but not astounding performances as the star-crossed lovers. Their voices are gentle but certainly not operatic and their dancing is similarly relaxed and understated. Their acting is similarly good though they never seem to draw the viewer in too much but I have to think that this is intentional in this odd modern musical-drama hybrid.

The story is basic and very stereo-typically LA where the entertainment industry is a cruel mistress yet talented people still throw themselves time and time again against the rocks to get their shot at fame often abandoning their personal happiness in the process. I can see why this movie is much loved by the Hollywood critics. Having said that it is good here to see the somewhat melancholic dream sequence ending which demonstrates dream and reality so well. In this film of up-beat optimism music and dance there is the sad demonstration that life is not always like that. The emotion here is never too deep with not so many tears in the eyes of theatregoers but most will probably be left thinking.

I attended a packed-out showing of this on Valentine's day at a local cinema with the audience enraptured throughout the performance whether that was in disbelief or in engagement, I cannot be sure. I have learned in musicals to suspend the disbelief and just take it in. A film is not reality whatever others may say so fantastic moments of dancers floating into the air in a planetarium or dancing in the moonlight on mountain road need to be taken in their stride. Here it is for pure spectacle and fun as a contrast to the realities of life.

Yeah, I liked it. Not as a great musical but as a musical that dares to be modern and challenge much we have seen in previous musicals. Yes, I can also see that some would be very bored: Those expecting a massive musical or those expecting a passionate love story or, indeed, those expecting a deep expose of modern life in LA. Probably a few of those around…

Rating: “Nearly perfect, but not quite”

Review Date: 2017-02-14

Directed by: Damien Chazelle

Studio: Black Label Media

Year: 2016

Length: 128 minutes

Genre: Musical

Other reviewed films by Damien Chazelle: