La La Land Review: A Masterpiece of Music, Magic and Melancholy

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Sometime in 2011 a little Rom-Com called ‘Crazy, Stupid, Love’ came out. It’s perhaps been both overrated and underrated in the years since, whilst it may be clunky and cliched, it also had a fantastic cast, a great script and some great scenes that subverted certain tropes.

What it’s perhaps best known for now is a tender scene in a bedroom where the hot guy and girl end up talking all night instead of bonking their gorgeous brains out. It’s a touching scene that, despite being dressed in Hollywood sheen, feels more relatable than the majority of romantic comedies.

As a fan of all sorts of films in this genre, I loved it. It was two attractive characters getting to know each in a way that took out the sexual frisson of Hollywood rom-com and replaced it with a modicum of genuine pathos. It felt honest.

In case you don’t remember, these two were Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling; partnered together for the first time.

Perhaps Damien Chizelle saw this and, seeing the irresistible chemistry between them, put them as the leads in his second (sort of) feature film.

Though I’m pretty sure that wasn’t entirely the case, Miles Teller was originally up for the Gosling role, it’s hard not to see why these two are the perfect match.

‘La La Land’ has a lot of things in its favour, lots of which are down to Chazelle himself; yet it’s these two together that really charm you into submission. Well, almost. As much as I enjoy Ryan Gosling when he’s doing his charming, fast-talking schtick; he’s not the most dynamic actor (partly why he was perfect for ‘Drive’) and his singing range isn’t massively extensive.

Yet, when put with Emma Stone, who easily blows everyone else off the screen, he works wonderfully. It would be harsh to say that Gosling was the worst thing about La La Land, which I’d only say cause there’s little to dislike about this film; but the role is almost a little too obnoxious to balance his charm.

He does comedy incredibly well, particularly with little dialogue, which, when partnered with Stone’s chameleonic ability to turn small facial expressions into an art form, gives this film more than just a whizz-bang level of enjoyment.

You maybe don’t expect to go into La La Land expecting the characters to be well-drawn, yet, after a second viewing, I found myself far more invested. Even when you may find Gosling’s Seb to be a little on the annoying side, he ends up being ultimately very likeable and Gosling can bring out the warmer side to him.

The sympathy, however, goes to Stone who nails everything she’s given. From the joy of a new relationship to the heartbreak of opening a show with a poor turnout, she infuses each scene with a dismaying level of charm, wit and beauty that feels both out of old Hollywood and from a more grounded, natural modern era.

Which is very much the modus operandi of Director/Writer Damien Chazelle, who draws inspiration from the golden age of movies and then some. References and homages are aplenty but it’s got heart and soul, not just flashy surface. It’s a film about aspiration and compromise, which despite doing anything really groundbreaking, is able to enchant because of the strength of its convictions.

There’s a perhaps more influential film to be had out there, ‘Moonlight’ for example is more important, yet ‘La La Land’ doesn’t reduce anything to half-hearted messages.

It’s a hopeful film but with a tinge of tragedy about it. Just listen to City of Stars from the soundtrack, it’s beautiful but ultimately has something melancholy about it that resonates throughout the whole film and beyond. The ending, without spoilers, is in keeping with Chazelle’s 2015 masterpiece ‘Whiplash’, ending with something of a victory but at what cost?

It has phenomenal cinematography and music that will make you weep in the cinema but under it ‘La La Land’ has that exquisite vein of vague despair running beneath it, though most of the time it will you leave you positively overflowing with joy during its running time.

On first viewing I failed to leave my stratospherically high expectations at the door and came away a little disappointed; yet on second viewing, it clicked. I get the characters, I get the nuance, I get it all. ‘La La Land’ dazzles on every conceivable technical level, but honestly I never ‘got’ its level of pathos until I went along with my mind unclouded by judgement.

Why do I love it? Well, it’s not just a beautiful film, it’s overwhelmingly so. It’s not just funny, it’s subtly so. It’s not just sad, it’s got a tang of realism. It has flaws, as all great things do, yet it’s more than just a film. It’s more than just art. It’s a feeling.

That feeling of joy followed by quiet melancholy you’ll only know if you’ve ever been alive.

That’s why I love ‘La La Land’.

Rating: A

I have so much to talk about that it would be sort of difficult to stuff it into my initial review, especially as I talk so much about how the film affects my emotions. So here’s some extra points that don’t fit in.

.Emma Stone has got to be one of my favourites actresses ever. Apart from being funny, sweet and charming, she’s also a genuine powerhouse of small facial emotions and can hold her own against any challenge thrown at her. Her solo near the ending is stunning and the scene where she dances at the pool party is laugh-out-loud funny.

.I kind of wish that the four main themes of the film weren’t all blown in the trailers but I still adore each of them.

.It’s a bit too long, overall, but it matters less with each watch

.’Whiplash’ was a massive surprise for me in 2015. I had no expectations and was blown away. Thankfully, after massive expectations for ‘La La Land’, I think it’s a masterpiece after a second watch having been a little underwhelmed first time around.

.It would take me months to list all the great and amazing things about the cinematography and direction/editing. You know it’s great. I know it’s great. Let’s just put every frame up on our walls and be done with it.

 

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