The volume of good things being said about La La Land since its release stateside has been impossible to ignore. Over recent weeks it has risen to become one of the top contenders in the 2017 award season and has already gained some Golden Globes. As of the time of writing it has embedded itself within the popular zeitgeist.
Here’s the movie critic who gave Attack of the Clones a five star review.
My wife and I just danced down the street while blaring La La Land's Another Day Of Sun from her iPhone. I even did a lamppost swing. Badly.
— Chris Hewitt (@ChrisHewitt) January 15, 2017
Even renowned public c*nt Piers Morgan has heard enough good things about La La Land to make a miserable c*nt like him go watch an actual musical. The c*nt.
I don't 'do' musicals but am tempted to break the vow with La La Land just to see what all the fuss is about. Guidance?
— Piers Morgan (@piersmorgan) January 14, 2017
La La Land is written and directed by Damien Chazelle who earned great critical acclaim in 2015 with Whiplash, a jazz drumming horror story starring an absolutely terrifying JK Simmons. With La La Land, Chazelle brings back the jazz accompaniment but ditches the blood in pursuit of greatness for a hapless love story heavily influenced by the golden age of Hollywood musicals and good old fashioned romantic whimsy.
The worst thing you can say about La La Land is that it is a movie for hipsters. So let me just get that out of the way first…
For this is a movie that is very much in love with the past, wearing its retro Cinemascope badges with a Tarantino level of pride, it’s ornate title cards, its long seamless all singing all dancing shots, it’s vinyl jazz filled veins and bombastic uptempo orchestral soundtrack that fuse together whisking one scene into the next. At the same time, it’s a movie that doesn’t require a deep understanding of its influences, just the acknowledgement of these elements. One moment that perfectly captures this notion, is a reference to Rebel Without a Cause, in which Emma Stone’s character picks up on the reference, but when Ryan Gosling’s probes her knowledge further he immediately picks up that she’s never actually seen the classic from start to finish. There is another line in the movie about LA specifically as a city that loves all things but never values these things to their full potential. Pure hipster.
Before they get bored and move on to the next thing, La La Land is the hipster movie of the year.
They’ll all start tap dancing in the streets soon, just you watch, except they’ll be doing ironically.
La La Land’s self awareness playfully (at first) merges with all these classical cues to tell a love story that is both swept away by the music but also very grounded within a very relateable modern context. Just because they make a song a dance about everything doesn’t necessarily mean that they are going to live happily ever after like the nuclear family of the 50s. Their relationship is not without it’s obstacles, it’s a movie that celebrates the dizziness of relationships in their infancy but also what happens when the music stops and the lights inevitably come up exposing reality all too candidly. It explores the gap romance and reality, the difference between loving someone and devoting oneself to someone in a very romantic sense but also the need to do and keep doing all the stuff that you love as an individual.
This is what was most surprising thing about the picture. I went into a packed screening of La La Land expecting to see a full blown musical, but aside from the opening sequence that has a massive song and dance number playing out over an LA freeway during rush hour. La La Land ultimately becomes quite introverted and focused on the intimate love story of its leads. It’s mostly a ‘talky’ to be honest, but it’s the music that people will remember most from it.
La La Land is built on a classical setup, two young creative and talented people living in Hollywood who both dream of getting their big break. Mia (Emma Stone) is an aspiring actress, taking every audition she can in between shifts at the coffee shop. Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) is a down on his luck jazz pianist, whose ultimate ambition is to opening his own club where he will reinstate jazz as the most important of all art forms. After some fleeting interactions in which they serve only to annoy and tease each other, a giddy romance blossoms playing out over midnight tap dance sessions. He teaches her to look inward and create art for herself rather than adhere to whatever shit show Hollywood is producing (Goldilocks from the perspective of the bear, for example). Meanwhile she challenges his traditionalist beliefs in the sacredness of an artform, a belief that stifles him into becoming a successful artist and person in general.
Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling are highly magnetic with each other and the audience in this movie. As far as I’m concerned there are no other people in this movie. I mean John Legend does shows up in a mustard coloured turtleneck, but only to prove the ultimate point of how boring John Legend’s music really is.
It’s already been established that Emma Stone may just be the greatest actress of her generation and La La Land just cements this fact even further. She plays Mia with an earnest touch enough to keep with the film’s innocent inoffensive tone but includes just enough of her quirky ‘Stonerisms‘ to keep the character likeable, relatable, smart and interesting. Throughout the movie, we see Mia auditioning for parts in bad movies. In one scene she is acting out a difficult phone call and the camera pans in closer to her face as she gradually breaks down to provide the performance of a life time. The joke is of course that the casting people are distracted in something else and completely the acting tour de force she summons from within. This is just meta acting at this point but it’s better than anything performed by her peers. And apparently she can sing pretty good as well.
Ryan Gosling by comparison oozes cool, and effortlessly plays Sebastian with a softness and a golden era charm. It helps that he learned how to play piano of course and looks good in a suit. Whether he is slowly dying inside when forced to play 80s power ballads for a cover band or laying down the law on popular misconceptions of jazz. His character’s passion for jazz may just be enough to persuade the average viewer to check out some records.
You remember back to the time, not too long ago, when Ryan Gosling said nothing at all in movies, maybe mumbled here and there, but that’s it… The chemistry between both actors is very strong, made even more so by the slight imperfections in the way they sing and dance.
The other main character of the movie is the city of LA itself. The movie is called La La Land after all, as good a name as any for a city full of dreamers and big ambitions of creation fiction. The movie opens with all the vibrant youths trapped on the freeway, seemingly going nowhere in life, but too young to care. It’s referred to as a city of stars is one of the movie’s more memorable songs, in direct relation to all the dreamers at surface level because good luck seeing the real stars with all that air pollution hanging above it. I guess this is why the couple must escape to the observatory to have their cosmic waltz under the milky way.
By day, under Californian sun, the city inhibits lecherous quality of traffic jams, broken dreams, and the man eating Hollywood machine. By the magic hour of night, things seem to transform and exude all the optimistic ideals and spirit of olden times. Typically, as an ode to the dawn of technicolour, La La Land’s defining colour is the dark blue of LA twilight when dreaming is most prevalent. When everything seems as if it will all be okay.
There are small nitpicks, predicatively enough their relationship undergoes third act trouble. But the breaking down of this perfect romance comes down to a phone call Mia has with her mother, a voice that we never we really hear, but a conversation that is overheard by Sebastian in the other room. I guess when other people, especially parents, read into a relationship and probe it’s practicalities, it can be the first initial test of a relationship and the first stumbling hurdle for a movie romance.
I mean it helped to screw things up for Marty, good thing he pulled it out of the bag by the end.
The analogy of the dynamics of jazz music is explained clearly during the first half of the movie. At first Mia makes the blanket statement that she doesn’t like jazz as most people would say. Howard Moon likes Jazz. Howard Moon is not cool. He’s a pretentious nitwit trapped in a cage of his own self loathing. There are shades of this in Sebastian, as he goes out of his way to school Mia over what Jazz actually is, not just background music that self assured people talk over at dinner parties, but an important always changing improvisational art form that seeks to bring a kind of order out of chaos. It is always unique. Never the same.
When was the last time you truly felt that in the multiplex?
I guess La La Land is aiming for the same thing cinematically, we never see the same big dance routines twice, the movie is always changing along with the passing of the seasons using different visual elements and set pieces to convey emotion and set the tone. It may be a throwback to the olden days, but it’s nostalgic trappings are applied in such a way to tell a very relevant love story.
Ultimately, La La Land is another exercise in post modernism, a fusion of the old familiar and newer more self aware trends, a movie that is going to tickle the fancy of those who appreciate the heart of sentiment of old time movies and musicals but also attract all those cynical kids out there, too cool for school, that appreciate life doesn’t always play out like it does in the movies.
In this way La La Land might just be the love story of our age.