DIR/WRI: Damien Chazelle • PRO: Fred Berger, Gary Gilbert, Jordan Horowitz, Marc Platt • DOP: Linus Sandgren • ED: Tom Cross • DES: David Wasco • MUS: Justin Hurwitz • CAST: Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, Amiée Conn
Only his third film, and director Damien Chazelle seems to be tap dancing all the way to cinematic immortality with La La Land, his follow up to 2015’s jazzy psycho drama Whiplash. Right off the bat we dive into a world of sun-drenched nostalgia, a whirlwind of song and dance, a contemporary throwback to the golden musical days of Minnelli, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, and all the good old boys in the musical department at MGM. At 31, Chazelle seems to be the definition of a wunderkind, a pioneering directorial force who’s sparking fresh life into an old genre, and with it, a magical vision of LA.
Los Angeles is a strange dark magical place, city of angels, a mythic land of dreams where anything is possible, and dreams can come true. But more often than not they don’t, and once bitten twice shy, and a loss of innocence is always pretty fertile ground for a good story. Of course, Chazelle knows this, bringing us into a world of heavy hearts with heavy burdens; that all too often get anchored down by the weight of their own dreams.
Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), in his crisp cotton suit, is a jaded jazz pianist with purist ambitions. His heart’s set on opening a real classical Jazz club, the kinda place Charlie Parker and Duke Ellington would have played in back in the heyday, a celebration of pure Jazz, no funny business. And Mia (Emma Stone) on the other hand is a small town girl with pipe dreams of being an actress. But for all her effort she just hasn’t cut it in auditions. However, a series of serendipitous encounters lead her and Sebastian together. And, as their love for each other blossoms, they’re faced with the prospect of having to compromise their individual dreams. Emma Stones walks the tightrope with ease, giving a nuanced performance that masterfully balances between drama and comedy. This is complimented perfectly by Gosling’s piercing moody blues, which bring you from heart to heartbreak in a second.
Visually Chazelle adopts an overwhelming romanticism, and it’s mesmerizing. Linus Sandgren’s dreamy cinematography sedates and exhilarates, seemingly making the camera waltz across the screen. Chazelle paints in big bright primary colors, adding the story together block by block, forming a whole incomprehensibly greater than the sum of its parts. The characters are carved out masterfully in front of the blazing oranges and blues of magic hour sky’s, which melt into the background, creating a modern spin on the old painted backdrops. The head over heels choreography, twists and turns, sweeping you right off your feet and straight into the next big dance piece, making you want to scream and shout.
Musically La La Land is a never ending gold mine of cascading arrangements, poppy Jazz numbers and lilting melodies. Composer Justin Hurwitz gave my heart an infinite dose of pins and needles with his potent dreamy compositions. And the songs never drift too far away from the rose-tinted longing for the past at the centre of the film. The melancholic song ‘City of Stars’ invites the audience into Mia and Sebastian’s tangled web of hope and sadness.
Chazelle’s greatly indebted to the vast cinematic heritage of mostly Hollywood musicals, but he wears his influences brazenly on his cuff, honoring his heroes with gusto. With obvious points of reference such as A Star is Born, Singing in the Rain and Scorsese’s underrated 1977 musical New York New York. Chazelle openly sings his praises for the realism of Jacques Demy’s groundbreaking french musicals, notably The Umbrellas of Cherbourg,which he confesses is his favorite movie of all time. One of Chazelle’s greatest strengths as a filmmaker is that he always keeps La La Land grounded in a plausible emotional reality, so that even at its most searing narrative heights it always feels real. At its core this is a film dealing with nostalgia, nostalgia for old dreams, old loves, old cities and clearly, for Chazelle, old musicals. La La Land offers a warming, renewing sense of magic and hope in the world, the perfect antidote to all the chaos of the present. In the end it’s an unapologetically bona fide love affair with love and dreams.
PG (See IFCO for details)
La La Land is released 13th January 2017