La La Land – LFF Review


I went to the cinema the other evening and I cried.  Not a terribly rare occurrence, easily sentimentally manipulated movie-goer that I am.  But this night, I saw something magical.  Film is in itself is a magic trick.  Twenty-four still images being shown to you a second that your brain interpenetrates as movement in the light.  The movement in the light that is La La Land reminded me of what cinema truly can be.

La La Land opens with good old LA traffic in the winter heat.  As the camera pans over the lines of cars on the freeway the various musical types coming from the cars melds into a song which becomes a dance through the parked cars.  Once everything settles down again, we are introduced to Mia (Emma Stone), aspiring actress heading to the day job, a coffee house on the Warner’s lot, as close to her dream as she could get.  We follow Mia through her day, via terrible Hollywood party, to when she is drawn into a restaurant where she hears a piano motif (City of Stars) being played by Seb (Ryan Gosling).  We rewind back to the traffic jam and Seb in the car behind Mia’s, being liberal with the horn.  We follow the same tack with Seb, through his day as a jazz obsessive, who’s dreams and unwillingness to compromise, have led him nowhere.  Once our leads meet in the restaurant, their lives come closer together and the pursue of the dreams they have are both helped and hindered by the other.  The dance that every blossoming romance has is literally danced out with recurring musical riffs (wonderfully composed by writer-director Damien Chazelle long tine musical collaborator Justin Hurwitz) played through variations attuned to the state of Mia and Seb’s relationship.  The film itself is a bait and switch, your expectations built up and then surprised by unexpected turns.  This is a fine line to walk and Chazelle pulls it off with aplomb.  The tale is based upon the chasing of dreams in a city where dreams are a commodity and those with them are to be used and exploited.  And more importantly, what happens when we actually attain those dreams.

Ryan Gosling as Seb and Emma Stone as Mia

Ryan Gosling as Seb and Emma Stone as Mia

Emma Stone, in every frame, is incredible.  What so easily have descended into “Manic Pixie Dream Girl” territory is elevated with an edge she brings to Mia, a character that is slightly underwritten.  I had a very interesting Twitter back and forth with Helen O’Hara, a critic I admire very much, and she saw a very different film to I.  Ryan Gosling’s Seb has the advantage that when you pop a brooding, good looking actor behind a piano and jazz ensues, you have instant cool.  Mia is a barista with dreams and Emma Stone has much more to do, which I thought she did wonderfully.  I found that I was rooting for her throughout.  While yes it can be said that Seb pushes Mia to her dreams, it is her that takes that opportunities and doesn’t look back.  Considering Helen’s viewpoint, I can totally see that in this film.  But, this aside, and the knowledge that my Feminism may now need a tuneup, I adored what played out before me.  That Gosling and Stone do not sing with the power of more accomplished singers, a slight fragility to their songs, only adds to the heart of the film.  I may have already mentioned the tears, but not the very broad smile that accompanied them as the credits rolled.

When I started this site, I set myself some broad guidelines, such as not to use it as conduit to slag things off.  Recent Bond’s aside, I think I’ve done that.  I want to celebrate things here, to share what has moved me.  I also wanted to avoid reviewing hyperbole as much as I can.  A quick Google of the site shows I have used the word “majestic” only once before in reviewing a film.  That was last year for Son of Saul, a very different movie indeed, but one that deserved the use of the word.  La La Land is Majestic, capitalisation intended.  Rarely does a film move you as this, engages you with the leads and even makes you want to dance in aisles, and I hate dancing, but I did.  Also, this is a film where the language never resorted to cheap swearing or sex for sex’s sake.  The themes are grown up but in such a way that I can happily take my daughter to see it.  La La Land is what cinema should aspire too.  It is smart, thoughtful, heartfelt and a bloody good night out.  Just what watching the magic show in a darkened room should be.

La La Land is screening at this year’s London Film Festival and is on general UK release in January 2016.

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