Sometimes you come across a movie that just touches you. It transcends the big screen and becomes something else entirely. This phenomenon is rare, it happened to me the first time when I was a wee nipper watching It’s a Wonderful Life, then in 2007 when I watched There Will be Blood, and most recently in 2014 when I watched Boyhood. These movies were so powerful, all in different ways, that they made me see cinema, and the world in a different way. Step forward Damien Chazelle and La La Land, a modern musical that is as uplifting as it contemplative, as hilarious as it melancholy and one of the most beautiful films I’ve ever seen.
Whilst avoiding hyperbolic phrases is often a rule of thumb for film reviews I can only apologise in advance for their excess within this review. La La Land tells a simple story, one where a man, Sebastian, meets a woman, Mia and they fall in love. Sebastian is a struggling jazz musician who one days dreams of opening his own bar, and Mia is a struggling actress forced to deal with snotty customers in a coffee shop as she awaits her big break.
Like Whiplash though, La La Land offers so much more than its surface story. La La Land is a story about never giving up on your dreams, about the trials and tribulations that come with this and, ultimately, the sacrifices we are forced to make. The final moments of this movie are both magical and heartbreaking, a beautifully shot reflection on the decisions that are made and the other roads our lives could have taken us down.
But not only is La La Land a beautifully told story, it is a joyous ode to Hollywood and all that is great about it. Damien Chazelle said that he wanted to make a movie about everything that he loved, and this is evident in every single frame of the movie. From the joyously uplifting opening sequence to the auditorium visit and the late night strolls around the streets of LA, every corner of the frame is filled with references and tidbits for film lovers. Even if you’ve never sat and watched the movies of James Dean, or witnessed the pure cinematic joy of Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly, it is still easy to appreciate the beauty with which these scenes have been crafted. La La Land may only be his second movie but Chazelle has shown us that he is a real cinematic prodigy.
Then there’s the music. La La Land opens with a bonkers musical number set on an LA highway and continues to get better from there on in.I sat open mouthed at this sequence, wanting to live in the world that these people were living in. Cinema, like most art exists for the purpose of escapism and those first three or four glorious minutes provided that in abundance. As the musical numbers continue to pile up Gosling and Stone prove that. not only can they act, but they can sing and dance wonderfully as well. The bastards. The sequences also often blend fantasy and reality, playing with the confines of the genre and defying audience expectations. The world inhabited by Seb and Mia is clearly our own, but there is something slightly fantastical about it, and the characters often break free of the constraints that tie us to our reality.
Then of course there is Stone and Gosling. The two share an unbelievable chemistry and this is easily their finest pairing to date. Stone is the star of the movie, from the first time we meet her, right down to her nuanced facial movements in the movie’s final moments. She sparkles every time she is on screen and deserves all the plaudits that have come her way. Gosling, likewise, is fantastic and as charming as ever. His goofball charm is perfect for the role of the down and out dreamer and the way that transforms through the movie is incredible to watch.
La Land is, simply put, as close to perfection as cinema gets. It’s a meeting of the old and the new, a beautiful homage to the golden age of Hollywood and a bold new step for the musical genre. This is the reason I love the movies, every single frame of this movie is a delight. Filled with joy, melancholy, humour, and beauty, if I see a better movie than La La Land this year I’ll be amazed. Scrap that, if I see a better movie for the rest of this decade I’ll be amazed.
⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐