I was interested in seeing this film because not only am I a sucker for a good musical, but I’ll admit to being a big fan of Ryan Gosling and my fiancee and I were intrigued to see what the director of Whiplash would do with a musical picture to make it fresh and unique.
The premise of the story is that Emma Stone is a young actress who has moved to LA to be a barista while auditioning to try and ‘make it’, while Ryan Gosling is a jazz purist (“Anyone who doesn’t like jazz just doesn’t have the right…context“, he insists) who plays the piano in bars to make a living and dreams of opening his own Jazz bar aka “Two young artists meet and fall in love while chasing their dreams“. The musical flows thematically from first love to heartbreak and every other emotion between, with great music throughout.
The most impressive thing about the film, for me, is just how daringly it dances between the old-fashioned “Singing’ In The Rain” style of musical, and a bolder, modern style. The song numbers are great (the opening number received a round of applause in my viewing) and are an undoubted homage to classic musicals – a thoughtful mixture of old school dance numbers you’d expect from a musical in the 50s, and emotionally-wrenching ballads that hit you where it hurts; there is one particular sequence toward the end of the film which is a real gut-punch.
Stylistically, the film skirts this same line; the film again looks and acts like a classic musical but frequently we see low-key reminders that this is a modern day; actresses using their iPhones, a video being seen on Youtube, etc to remind us that this is set in the present day. If we didn’t have these reminders, the visuals would almost have you thinking that this is the 1950s. The cinematography is beautiful and overall the film is visually stunning. There is also no doubt that it is wonderfully directed, with the same masterful control of pace and tension that we come to expect from Damien Chazelle thanks to Whiplash.
Gosling, in particular, is absolutely terrific, with his charm and charisma throughout. At the start of the film when his sister says she’s worried about him as life seems to have him on the ropes, he responds “I wanna be on the ropes. I’m just letting life think it has me and then before you know it – BAM. It’s a classic rope-a-dope“. His delivery of these sorts of lines can’t be matched. It’s a role made for him with tons more of the above kind of lines. But more than that, Gosling captures a real emotional intensity at the film’s emotional breaking points, more specifically in the sequence towards the end of the film that I mentioned earlier. He manages to convey such convincing emotion without so much as a word.
I’d feel bad if I didn’t also praise Emma Stone, who has probably never been better. She has wonderful emotional range, from the ecstatic highs of love to the tearful, painful lows.
In terms of the Gosling/Stone films, this is by far the best. Their undoubted chemistry is given the full spotlight in this film with freedom to explore said chemistry without restriction.
The film is ultimately everything it had the potential to be – an unashamedly romantic musical, infused not only with great song and dance numbers but with intense emotion and charisma from Gosling/Stone, wonderful visuals and a unique pacing and tension from Chazelle. Oh, and it’s hilarious throughout too. A genuine achievement – must be one of the best films I’ve seen in a long while. La La Land absolutely blew me away. In my opinion, this one deserves to go down in history as a classic that people 50 years from now and beyond still enjoy. The music throughout the whole film is amazing and beautifully written… and nothing falls short – cinematography, dialogue, acting, story, and plot. It’s as funny and energetic as it is romantic and sad. It’s purposefully reminiscent of classic films like Singing in the Rain and incorporates a beautiful 40’s/50’s aesthetic, but it is fresh and original.
The film is truly remarkable. The direction, choreography, all top notch. It’s a great blend of embracing cinema of the past and mixing it in with modern times. It’s a heartbreaker of a film. It’s our age defining Musical that’s fantastic.
SuperSam Rating: 10/10.