Thursday, 26 January 2017

La La Land

(M) ★★★★★

Director: Damien Chazelle.

Cast: Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, John Legend.

Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling light up the screen in the wonderful La La Land.

IF there’s one thing that Hollywood loves, it’s Hollywood.

Should La La Land win the best film Oscar come February 26 – as it probably will and should – it will be the fourth winner in six years centred around acting and/or Hollywood.

But dismissing such a victory as an example of mere industry self-congratulation would ignore the fact this is a great film by almost any measure.

Gosling and Stone star as two dreamers in search of their respective goals in Los Angeles – the former is a down-and-out jazz pianist who longs to run his own jazz club and the latter is a struggling actress battered by a string of failed auditions.

After a number of unsuccessful meet cutes, they finally succumb to their obvious chemistry, falling in love and spurring each other toward their respective dreams. But can their romance survive the ups and downs of living in La La Land?

Pick a box and this film ticks it. As a musical, a comedy, a romance, all of the above, it thrives and takes flight. Justin Hurwitz’s songs are memorable and fun, with most of them bouncing upwards on rising chords and jazzy rhythms, but never becoming tiresome, despite the key musical themes regularly re-emerging, plus Mandy Moore's choreography (no, not that Mandy Moore) is outstanding. As a comedy, it’s occasionally laugh-out-loud funny, but never in your face or straining for a gag, content to just bubble along with a good sense of humour. And as a romance, it’s charming and surprising, while somehow managing to be both realistic and fantastical.

The cinematography is gorgeous – whether it’s capturing a sunset rendezvous or a simple street scene, there are numerous moments that look and feel instantly iconic. The script is sharp, particularly the ending. The editing is great, whether it be the hidden cuts in the opening single-take number on a gridlocked off ramp, or in the to-and-fro of an escalating dinner table argument.

But all these strengths would amount to nothing if its stars failed to align. Thankfully Gosling and Stone have a galaxy worth of chemistry. Their third film together (after Crazy, Stupid, Love and Gangster Squad), La La Land sizzles courtesy of their pairing. Individually they are also great – they can sing, they can dance, and they can act, with the added bonus that Gosling plays/fakes a mean jazz piano – but together they are something remarkable. It’s hard to imagine this film in the hands of two different actors, such is the quality of their performances.

Of course the real kudos must go to Chazelle, who put this project on the backburner rather than compromise anything for it, instead going off to make the acclaimed Whiplash. His script and his direction burn with a passion for the subject matter. La La Land feels like an old-school Hollywood musical, referencing the likes of Singin’ In The Rain and An American In Paris, but is more than just an homage. It’s fresh and exciting, bursting on to the screen in a mix of technicolour, sassy performances and resounding symphonic chords.

If there is a criticism, it’s that the subject matter is a tad shallow – thematically, it’s about little more than the Facebook-ish motto of “follow your dreams”. However the film succeeds in giving that adage as much depth as possible by exploring what you have to give up in order to reach that goal. It’s also hard to ignore the Hollywood-talking-about-Hollywood nature of the movie, which is bound to resonate with Oscar voters, but might not speak to the non-artistic, non-aspirational types who have never wandered down Dreamer’s Lane.

But this is finding fault where there doesn’t need to be any. Not every film has to be as deep and tough as Spotlight or 12 Years A Slave. La La Land is frothy and fun and fabulous, but it’s also a great example of a film where every single piece clicks perfectly into place.

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