Damien Chazelle has bested himself, and everyone else. With just 3 feature films to his name, he has established himself as a visionary, an innovator, a pusher of boundaries, a seeker of beauty.
Sean was immediately aflame with praise. He wasn’t just finding a spot in his top ten of the year for it, but dusting off old standbys in his all-time list to make room. And let me remind you that this is a musical. Not normally Sean’s cup of tea. Sean needs one of three things to love a movie: sports, explosions, boobs. La La Land has none of those. It has singing and dancing and old-fashioned romance. Yet Chazelle has breathed new life into the genre, with riots of primary colour, energy so vivid you can taste it, and music that evokes deep troughs of emotion. And by ‘breathed new life’ I mean that he’s actually found a way to bring great musicals from cinema’s past into modern times. Forget made-for-Broadway musicals like Chicago or Into The Woods, their theatre sets turned into movie sets – it’s more reminiscent of Singin In The Rain. La La Land takes place in the streets of Los Angeles and Chazelle takes advantage of its sprawling landscape, and its glittering skyline.
Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, in the two lead roles, don’t just burst randomly into song. You very quickly get to sense that they sing when ordinary words just won’t do. They play Seb, a jazz pianist, and Mia, an aspiring actress, both a little down on their luck when the meet. The song and dance make up their courtship. The pair do not meet-cute; they meet-ugly several times until it takes: toes tap, together. New love is exhilarating. You feel as though you could sing your lover’s name from the rooftop, as if you could dance on air. It just so happens that in La La Land, they do these things literally. And it’s glorious. The fluid, ethereal dance steps will remind you of Fred and Ginger. Chazelle weaves magic, and a touch of fantasy, into their story, and even though you may never have waltzed among the stars in your sweetheart’s arms, you sort of know how it feels. But this great passion never lasts. It tapers off. Songs repeat. Sean felt himself longing for the exuberance of the beginning of the movie, and realized that was the point. Seb and Mia were missing it too.
If you’ve watched the gorgeous trailer, you’ll recognize the song that Ryan Gosling sings. The lyrics go: “City of stars, are you shining just for me?” But the movie reminds you that L.A. isn’t just a city of stars, it’s a city of dreams, and Seb and Mia are there to chase theirs. They haven’t come to Los Angeles to find love, but to find meaningful work. To become famous and\or successful. La La Land is about following your dreams, and it’s about the cost of following those dreams.
So Sean, whose movie reviews often consist of just three words (“It was good”) can’t shut up about this film. He’s fumbling to find the right words, but he knows he hasn’t just seen a good film, but experienced something unforgettable. I, on the other hand, have been oddly silent in the 24 hours since we saw it. Not for lack of trying, it’s just that every time I open my face to speak, more tears fall out of it. And lest you start to worry that this is some tragedy wherein Ryan Gosling ends up shot, it’s not. These aren’t just tears of sorrow, but of joy and of wonder. This movie has made me feel. It has made me feel all the feels. I can’t even make it through this review with any dignity. La La Land is why I go to the movies. It’s unselfconscious and unabashed, a cake among pies, and as soon as I’ve finished weeping, I want another slice.
If you’re as desperate as I am to keep reading (and talking! and weeping!) about this wonderful movie, please visit our discussion section – SPOILERS – be warned.