La La Land (2017) (Review)

La La Land is the film on everybody's lips this Oscar season, primed and positioned as this year's Oscar front-runner from the word go and oozing critical acclaim and celebration, sweeping the board at the Golden Goobes and setting the record for most awards given to a single film by collecting wins in all seven of its nominated fields. Directed by Damien Chazelle and starring Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, the original musical represents something that has been almost entirely missing from cinema screens and harks back to the 50s in its style, content and tone. Is La La Land the film to sweep you off your feet this Award season or will it fall drastically short of the mark because inflated hype and heightened expectations?

Mia (Stone), an aspiring actress, and Sebastian (Gosling), a jazz musician, are desperately chasing their dreams for bigger and better things when they keep unexpectedly meeting in and around LA. When they begin to fall in love, their relationship seems unbreakable but as each experience increasing success in their career, they risk losing the thing that truly makes them the happiest and they must decide between their dreams and their love for each other.

Sparks fly between Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling and the pair absolute sell every single moment of this beautiful picture, committing to pitch-perfect performances with an undeniable charm and magnetism that transcends almost every single comparable performances this Oscar season and indeed, most other on-screen couples. While each of them are given their own moment to shine individually - Gosling's beautiful pier-side performance of City of Stars and the Stone's heartfelt and heartbreaking performance of The Fools Who Dream at her audition - they are at their strongest when the pair are together, singing and dancing during A Lovely Night just as the sun is setting on their first proper night together in LA, and it is an absolute joy to see their love begin to blossom in these moments. It's easy to see why they are easy favourites as we come hurling towards the Oscars; both of them more than convincingly bring the emotion to the film but also manage to sprinkle it with a fair serving of humour that really, really works. The multitude of tones in this film is astounding and it nails almost all of them with flying colour. We are truly transported into this stunning, stunning world because of these sensational performances, as well as the fantastic, assured direction and glamorous and exuberant production values.

Quality and colour ooze from this picture with such an infectious, delightful, wondorous energy, all under the impeccable control of Damien Chazelle, whose clear passion carefully crafts this terrific world that we become so absorbed in. His camera work is incredible, from the transitioning between scenes, including a pivotal moment that plays with time almost seamlessly, to the close-ups which exquisitely exaggerate the emotion of our two leads. It's a brave move to tighten the frame as Chazelle so often does to home in on the characters but it truly allows audiences to connect with these two likeable leads and it serves the purpose of having the audience become completely engrossed in the picture.. It tells a rather simple story on a far deeper and profound level, capturing so much heart that makes the film so loveable - it really is destined to become a classic. The themes on offer here (love, hopes, dreams, aspirations and destiny) are explored in such a compelling way that we can forgive the slightly simple storyline, possibly because of the multitude of ways the themes are explored with such varying tones from complete euphoria to melancholiness, almost as if we are out of touch with reality and living in this special bubble so expertly created throughout our journey in La La Land.

Each and every landscape and setting is richly brought to life with a vibrance and radiance that makes it one of the most stunning picture of the year, and matched with wonderful costumes (particularly for Stone, with a fantastic use of primary colours) and special effects, it is certainly one of the most stylish and sophisticated pictures too. One scene, which sees our two leads gracefully ascend to the stars and the clouds in an planetarium, is a breath-taking moment in which allows audiences to bask in the beauty of the film with lingering and wide shots encouraging us to do so. There is something a little amateur about the shot, whether it's the dark silhouette against the blatantly green screened star-scape or the typical fade and transitioning between shots; but please do not think that this is a complaint - it's really rather the opposite - as it demonstrates how terrifically Chazelle has a grip on the era of Hollywood and LA he wants to convey, superbly conjuring the bygone 50s vibe that is simply enthralling to see come to life again. Choreographer Mandy Moore knows how to create the magic in the big dance numbers too, with each song performed stunningly under her direction, most noticeably the one-take opening blitz on a crowded Los Angeles highway as well as the Hollywood Hills party, all lifting the mood to euphoric highs in act one. Details are so well thought out and considered, which are only exaggerated on further viewings, demonstrating the care poured into this film by every person involved. Everything about the production values are incredible well-realised and it so rarely puts a foot wrong.

On the whole, this is an absolutely joyous musical affair that rarely ever falters, although it does on a couple of times; John Legend is totally miscast, as from the second he enters the film I felt like the rug had been pulled out from under my feet and the formidable world-building, that had been so powerful, begins to crumble slightly. I feel as if I am watching a famous musician try to act and it interrupts the fantasy and jubilant world the picture crafts, having it crash down somewhat with the inclusion of this recognisable artists - it just doesn't work. Thankfully, he is not in it much and reduced to a couple of cameos, but it does prevent the second act from rising to the pinnacle perfection of the first hour and final thirty minutes. The second act, in general, is a little frustrating, only because we were so spoiled with act one, and because our two leads drift apart from each other: the energy is always at its peak when they are together and when they begin to separate a little, it needs something else. Maybe the second act needs a song that is as upbeat and vivacious as the first two numbers (Another Day of Sun and Someone In The Crowd) to give the film that shot of energy, or another ensemble number, to empower the film to soar to immeasurable heights of act one.

Believe the hype with La La Land, as this colourful, creative, transcendent and masterful musical deserves to sweep up at the upcoming Oscar season, just as it has at the Golden Globes. Despite such a simple story being told, it features so much heart, invigorated energy and euphoria that you simply cannot stop smiling with this film, even when it all ends a little melancholy. It's refreshing, stunningly told, visually captivating and heartfelt in its exploration of themes and ideas with two sensational performances at its core. It's certainly sweet but with a little bitter bite too, refusing to indulge too much in tripes and cliches and keeping the ball rolling (even through the slower moments, there is always something to enjoy). I implore you to watch this, if only to be able to tell the story to future generations about where you a film destined to become a classic in years to come. It's a musical masterpiece, a love letter to a Hollywood time gone by and everything I love about film, just in a slightly different package - and a reminder to let the dreamer inside of us all to dream.


Summary: La La Land is an absolutely transcendental, extraordinary, mesmerising watch and - although tinged with a little sadness - lifts you higher and higher with a euphoric non-stop singing, dancing and acting masterclass led by the phenomenal pairing of Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling and married together by Damien Chazelle's sensational direction.

Highlight: So, SO many moments including Stone's heart-wrenching The Fools Who Dream performance (which drove me to the point of tears), the opening number bursting with energy and Gosling and Stone's first performance together.

Update: Third watch in and my issues with the film have disappeared and I appreciate and love the film even in spite of the minor issues I have with it. 10/10. Congrats, La La Land.