“Here’s to the fools who dream…”
When one thinks of Oscar films, it’s usually powerful, thought provoking drama that comes to mind first. Biopics about inspirational figures from history. Behind the scenes stories of actors torturing themselves for their roles. It’s all quite heart wrenching stuff. And then there’s La La Land.
Director Damien Chazelle burst out onto the cinematic scene with Whiplash, one of the best films of 2014. Centred around a jazz drummer, it hit every beat perfectly. Now with huge stars Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling in his team and a chorus of critical praise, his latest feature seems destined for success. But does La La Land live up to the hype?
Mia (Emma Stone) is a struggling actress trying to achieve her dream of becoming a movie star. Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) is a pianist with a passion for jazz trying to achieve his dream of opening up a jazz club. Through a couple of chance encounters, their playful banter turns into burgeoning love.
With sunny Los Angeles as their back drop, the pair face tough decisions on the road to success. When success and love are once in a lifetime opportunities, how can you choose between the two? Oh, and it’s a musical. Don’t be surprised when a traffic jam breaks out into a song and dance.
La La Land is one of the most beautiful films of the last decade. From the opening shot, a huge song and dance on a crowded freeway, the vibrancy pours off of the screen. Director Chazelle and cinematographer Linus Sandgren crafted sweeping shots that weave between the performers that are simply breath-taking. Simply put, this film is love at first sight.
This is very much an open love letter to classic Hollywood. Over references to Singin’ In The Rain and Casablanca aside, La La Land pays tribute to a golden age of cinema. Ironically, this film feels so unique today because it is so steeped in history and homage; it’s audaciously retro and it’s all the better for it.
It’s also incredibly refreshing to have a film so unabashedly hopeful. La La Land at its core is about those who dare to dream big and shoot for the stars. Even the most miserable of movie goers won’t be able to resist the film’s infectious joy. In today’s sombre world, it is truly irresistible escapism.
Stone and Gosling perfectly exude this bright shiny quality; the pair have chemistry to burn. Stone captures the bright eyed idealism of Mia, but successfully colours her character with more depth beyond just naive innocence. If she hadn’t already, she has definitely cemented herself among the best young actresses working today.
If Stone is La La Land‘s heart, then Gosling matches her with soul. Often criticised for only being able to play stoic, quiet characters (after the huge success of Drive), Gosling definitely turns on the charm. His sarcastic charisma is palpable on screen and his Sebastian is endlessly likeable.
The musical elements of the film are where the problems begin to arise: Stone is not the best dancer in the world and Gosling is not the most confident of singers on the soundtrack. To an extent this can be overlooked as it is difficult not to have fun when both actors clearly are. It also brings with it a more natural feel, making the gorgeous and polished world seem just a little less dreamlike.
The songs themselves are all very good and certainly enjoyable. Stone’s solo “Audition (The Fools Who Dream)” is incredibly poignant and will resonate with people of all ages. However none of the songs are particularly memorable. There isn’t a melody that sticks with you and that you find yourself idly humming without even realising. La La Land will be remembered for its visuals rather than its catchy tunes.
La La Land will enchant musical-lovers and -haters alike with its enchantingly hopeful story. Aesthetically beautiful from the opening shot to a magical finale, few films out currently will leave you with a similar sense of elation. Stone and Gosling are perfect leads that you can’t help but root for.
Chazelle has crafted yet another modern classic that won’t be forgotten any time soon. It’s certainly not hard to see why La La Land is gathering so much momentum as we approach the Oscars.