With La La Land eating up our cinema-going pocket money at the box office, it’s time to shine a little extra light on Chazelle’s Hollywood musical. Will it live up to expectations? Read any of our three reviews on this hotly-anticipated movie and find out.
La La Land Review by Christian Lynn: A film that’ll make you dance the whole night through!
When it was announced that Damien Chazelle, the director of the dark, brooding, independent drama Whiplash, would go on to make a glossy Hollywood musical starring one of its most consistent on-screen couples, Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, many scoffed at the ambition, the cheek of it. To reignite a dying genre, one that had declined as a result of audience’s increased alienation from the fantastical quality of storytelling through song. What would be the turn out, how would Chazelle pull this off?
The answer is quite clear, after sitting comfortably in the cinema, for its 128-minute runtime.
Chazelle has crafted a masterpiece, a film that simultaneously acts as an ode to the classical musicals by the likes of Jacques Demy, Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly, while also serving this old-fashioned impression with a modernist touch, an attachment to realistic storytelling. From its broad opening number, to the subtle nuances played out in moments of conservation between our delightful stars, we have witnessed the rebirth of the Hollywood musical.
Our stars, the aforementioned Gosling and Stone, play Sebastian and Mia, two wavering artists competing in a market wrought with contention and let-downs, on the way to a success that may or may not come. The two meet a number of times, by accident entirely, almost as though they were star-crossed lovers translated straight from the Shakespearean page. From there, their romance blossoms, as do their ambitions for reaching that goal that many a performer has felt throughout their journey through the world of the arts.
With the simultaneity mentioned, and the combination of ‘romance’ and ‘ambitions’ in Sebastian and Mia’s narrative journey, it would seem as though there were a clash of styles, of context. This is far from the truth. What occurs instead is a meeting of sensibilities that serves the narrative entirely, as Chazelle shows us how dreams are created, met and sometimes meander in ways we do not expect or desire.
The classical elements, as depicted in many of the numbers and dance routines, all serve to conjure up this perfected image of Los Angeles, the City of Angels as it was once dubbed. Sebastian and Mia glide along a street overlooking the city at one point, bathed in the purple light of the dreamlike sky, embracing their meeting and the immense possibilities and opportunities that L.A. presents to them.
However, while we examine a terse, dimly lit and apprehensive dinner arrangement between Sebastian and Mia, the handheld camerawork and consistent use of close-ups demands a more grounded attention from the audience, as the harsh reality of the selfishness of achievement can often come to clash with the desire to do good by others in the realm of Hollywood.
This is an admirable trait to Chazelle’s film and one that permeates throughout. As the narrative oscillates between glorious, operatic highs to challenging but relatable lows, we are perceiving a whole spectrum of human emotion, yet told without pretention and pessimism. This is a wholly positivist film, one that wears its heart on its sleeve in its relationship to filmmaking and its admiration for the human spirit; to conquer all difficulties in order to get to where one wants to go.
It strikes a resemblance to Roman Holiday in this way therefore, not in terms of the intricacies of its plot, but in the machinations of its narrative structure. Characters that seem incompatible, come together to form a strong bond. They do this in the midst of a decadent city, known across the globe for its grandiosity and the mere spectacle of observing its bustling streets and proud history. And yet, despite their confrontation with reality, as it begins to approach them as an immovable hurdle, their spirits are not broken. They are strong, adverse to the descent into defeatism: they propel themselves forward, shedding a tear or two but always acknowledging that time is ever moving and must be obeyed for the benefit of one’s own life.
This comparison, I hope, creates a sense as to the optimism that Chazelle embeds into the DNA of his commercialized musical. While the visuals are spectacular, the stars romantic, and the sets engrossing in their colour and vivacity, it is the communication of its message that proves to be most fruitful. That the ultimate act of kindness is to encourage someone to achieve their dream, no matter what the cost.
And so, to quote the underlying thread that follows throughout the movie, in the form of the repeated song City of Stars, ‘City of Stars, are you shining just for me?’. This is a subject that challenges us all, and La La Land goes a long way to answering it. The romanticism of Hollywood is something that should be embraced, with affection and frivolity, but also taken with a pinch of salt, that salt being the actuality of disappointment, and that sometimes we may help or hinder one another when we are threatened with this. Chazelle should be commended for possessing the gumption to portray this, and I hope that you shall take the time to see his film as a result. It will entertain, enchant and affect you in ways that Hollywood movies rarely do. That is something worth cherishing.