For many, there is a golden age of cinema. I have some customers of a certain age who look for nothing but westerns, whispering John Wayne’s name in reverent hushes like he was a saint. Others think fondly of movies where song and dance, names like Rogers and Hammerstein or Fred Astaire mean more than any hero waving a six shooter. La La Land is a movie that attempts to elicit the heart and nostalgia of that golden era. It’s a musical with a ridiculous amount of heart. It’s about dreams and settling that are more akin to the modern entertainment industry. It’s also one of the finest films of the year. Find out more in our review.
Mia (Emma Stone) is an aspiring actress who has left a small town to follow her dreams. One failed audition after another almost sees her giving up on her dreams. She meets Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), a jazz pianist looking to start his own club, and fall in love. Despite the optimism, they provide for each other it soon becomes clear that dreams aren’t enough to live on and so might their love be enough to maintain a relationship.
La La Land is a musical filled with jazzy show tunes, big dance numbers and loving ballad shared between the two protagonists. It’s possible that there is a dividing statement in and of itself. If musicals do nothing for you then probably La La land will do nothing to win you over. You might also be dead inside but that’s between you and a trained professional. Yet if you know the fun of a great tune and want something infectious then you must see this film.
You see La La Land makes no apologies for what it is. A Los Angeles traffic jam opens the movie and yet within second there are people with bright bold coloured clothes, dancing and singing on cars. Solo songs cover their singer in an unseen spotlight as if we know this a stage production. It’s quite a technical achievement too with cameras, lighting and production all making the thing feel vibrant. Yet as you can imagine from the director who made the rhythmic and haunting Whiplash there is a deft sense of how music and visual fit together well.
It’s that music that will get you too. Things that just feel the head, get the feet tapping and you looking it up on Spotify. It’s jazz mixed in with show tunes. It’s grand and over the top. There is a frailty to the voices here. It might be the delicacy of these characters in a tough world. It might be about the legacy of their dreams, that somehow who they are simply isn’t big enough to fulfil them.
Yet at is heart it is a simple story. A boy meets girl story. A fulfill your dreams story. It is one you’ve heard a thousand times before. Yet maybe it’s lack of complexity makes it easier to access its heart. This isn’t a film about ‘clever’ but dynamic. It isn’t about reinventing the wheel but enjoying the ride on the well-worn grooves. It will make you smile, it will make you sad and it is more effective than so many big movies at making its story feel fresh.
A lot of the help comes from the wonderful leads. It is well documented on screen how great the chemistry between Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone. They find that easily again here working on each other’s beats in dialogue and it seems this is further enhanced in dance. Ryan Gosling plays detached coolness with hints of vulnerability, utilising his deft and quirky humour at times, to embody Sebastian. Mia again cements Emma Stone as a wonderful and original leading lady. She has poise and class but also this animated quality that brings her joyous ‘personality’ into a movie already overflowing joy.
There is not a lot to criticize La La Land and perhaps the only truly noticeable is that it drags a little in the middle. It might be a little bit too much time spent on a middle act with Sebastian finding commercial success and Mia doing her one-woman play. The reasons for these events are important to the story but they feel a little stretched out. It also seems like John Legend also feels a little bit out of his acting depth but never painfully so. He plays a musician and it’s only being matched with such overwhelming talent that he seems the lesser.
La La Land Review Cheat Sheet
One comes away from La La Land feeling enraptured and smiling. It encapsulates technical brilliance, wonderful performances and a soundtrack that will keep you singing. It’s heart on the sleeve attitude is a perfect salve against cynicism and despite a series of minor quibbles it is A true joy to watch. Easily one of the best films of the year!
+ Wonderful Chemistry between the two leads.
+ Brilliant soundtrack that hangs around.
+ Technical aspects of the thing elevate the whole thing.
+ A simple story with a big heart leaves you feeling joy.
-Drags a little in the middle.
-Poor John Legend feels a little bit outclassed in the acting stakes.