Writer and director Damien Chazelle sweeps us up in classic Hollywood homage with his latest feature La La Land, a musical romance set in modern-day Los Angeles. The story follows aspiring actress Mia (Emma Stone) who is at the end of her tether after a run of bad auditions. At a particular low point, she spots Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), a down-trodden jazz pianist who performs at a restaurant where nobody cares about him or the music he plays. They are contemporary starving artists pursuing old-fashioned dreams, and when fate strikes they bond over their shared passion and ambitions to get a break in the ‘city of stars’. Seb shrugs off his failure to succeed, saying ‘I’m letting life hit me until it gets tired’, but can the pair hit back at life or are they destined for never-ending rejection?
The trick to why La La Land works so well is the clever balancing act between nods to romanticised nostalgia and the harshness of reality. For example, mesmerising musical sequences can be ended abruptly by the shrill sound of an incoming call, illustrating the juxtaposition between the era they revere and the world we live in today. The girl-meets-boy narrative captures the buzz of a blossoming relationship, and how a little thought of a special someone can bring us out of a slump on the lousiest of days. Justin Hurwitz’s entrancing score beautifully fits the love story like a well tailored suit, the whimsy tunes encapsulating the fantastical elements with elegance and grace.
Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling dazzle in all-singing all-dancing turns, revelling in the marvel of the material. They are effervescent individually but when they come together their fused magnetism fizzes like the finest champagne. We already know from their previous collaborations that they work well together on-screen, but can take it to a whole new level, sometimes without having to utter a word of the pithy dialogue. They may indeed lack the technical flair of Fred and Ginger, but they make up for this in their dedicated, delightful and at times devastatingly good performances.
La La Land reminds me of why I love going to the cinema, and Damien Chazelle’s adoration for film is evident in almost every carefully crafted frame. Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling masterfully deliver the important albeit idealistic message to follow your dreams no matter how foolish they may seem, taking the director’s idea to revive the musical genre and flying it to the moon and back. The passion within the brilliantly joyous project is palpable both in front of and behind the camera, and this should be enough to put a spring in anyone’s step.
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