LA LA LAND
Direction: Damien Chazelle
Actors: Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone
Rating: 5 / 5
This delightful extravaganza revives the big-screen musical — and how.
Damien Chazelle’s third feature (after Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench, and the multiple Oscar-winning Whiplash) is a joyous paean to the City of Angels and the razzle-dazzle of Hollywood’s halcyon era.
La La Land evokes the bittersweet fables of the late French auteur Jacques Demy. There are echoes also of some of Jean-Luc Godard’s 1960s improvisational romps, like A Woman is a Woman, Band of Outsiders and Contempt.
Writer-director Chazelle pulls out all the stops to capture the feel of true love and the inevitable obstacles which thwart the potential happiness of young lovers.
In this case, he (Ryan Gosling) is a dedicated jazz pianist reduced to tinkling out Christmas standards in dive bars. And she (Emma Stone) is an aspiring actress whose career is yet to take off.
Their romance plays out against the colourful backdrop of familiar LA locations, from a studio back lot to the hillside overlooking the city and the Griffith Observatory.
At once original and retro, the film opens with a show-stopping set piece. Vehicles are stuck bumper to bumper in a gridlock on the freeway. A woman driver (played by Indian-origin danseuse Reshma Gajjar) steps out and breaks into an impromptu ditty. Scores of motorists join in, in a dizzying, single-take rendition of ‘Another day of sun’.
Throughout, the music score by Justin Hurwitz and the lyricist team of Benj Pasek and Justin Paul is toe-tapping. Combined with the widescreen cinematography of Linus Sandgren and the exuberant dance choreography by Mandy Moore, this nimble confection measures up to, if not outclasses, the old-school musicals it sets out to celebrate.
As the realities of life begin to impinge on the couple’s relationship, in one particularly hard-hitting scene reminiscent of the war of words between husband and wife (Brigitte Bardot-Michel Piccoli) in Godard’s Contempt (1963), the jazzman and his fiancé split up.
Then again, while traipsing around an outdoor film set, the frustrated musician bemoans that producers nowadays “worship everything and value nothing”, a caustic put-down that wouldn’t have been out of place in Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard (1950).
Correctly abstaining from a happily-ever-after resolution, the transcendent what-if epilogue nevertheless elicits tears of joy.
While Gosling deploys his trademark tousled charm, the standout performance is by the effervescent Stone.
La La Land just makes you fall in love with the movies all over again.
Watch the trailer for La La Land here