So this is it then. After all those months of glowing reviews, hearing about how everybody adores this film, how they’ve been to see it five times, how they’ve learned the soundtrack off by heart, how, even before it was released, it was being lined up for Oscar glory. After all this time, an eternity, La La Land is finally in UK cinemas and I’ve now seen it and am ready to throw in my two cents.
I was obviously all too aware of the adoration this film has received but I was also prepared for the possibility that I would not completely buy into it, maintaining a certain emotional distance, as I often do with other hyped-up films. This was certainly the case with director Damien Chazelle’s previous film Whiplash – I thought that it was a great film but also that it was seriously overpraised. Some may call it one of the best films of the decade but I have to disagree with that.
So anyway, the big question: is the tremendous hype for La La Land justified? Let’s find out . . .
As you probably already know, La La Land is about the relationship between struggling actress Mia (Emma Stone) and jazz pianist Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) as they strive to achieve their dreams in the ever-changing, sometimes unforgiving world of Los Angeles.
First of all, the film starts out relatively disappointingly. The first two musical numbers, “Another Day of Sun” and “Someone in the Crowd”, did nothing for me as they were pretty hollow, forgettable and too “Broadway-y”; for the first few minutes, I was seriously worried that La La Land would continue on this path.
Thankfully though, everything started to get better as soon as Ryan Gosling showed up; the film quickly hits the ground running as soon as Sebastian is introduced and when the two main characters, Mia and Sebastian, finally get to interact, I was then able to properly settle into the story my fears were somewhat laid to rest.
Gosling and Stone are obviously the heart and soul of La La Land and their relationship is the main selling point of the movie. They both inhabit their characters excellently, never failing to make us believe that they are genuine characters and not simply performances, and their chemistry is perfect. They are both given the opportunity to be funny (the early poolside scene easily illiciting the biggest smile from me!) and in later emotional scenes, they are wonderfully sympathetic and it is easy to feel compassion towards them due to their genuine performances. Plus, their singing and dancing is admirable and it is entirely possible that the film wouldn’t have worked as well were it not for the two lead actors.
And Chazelle (briefly) brings J. K. Simmons back on board, which is clearly a winning move!
The music is good, though nothing to write home about as the songs don’t really leave much of a lasting impression, the main exceptions being “City of Stars” and “Audition”, probably because they were the main songs of the film’s trailers. But on that note, the “Audition” scene is probably the highlight of the film, the pinnacle, and I could definitely imagine a raucous applause, a standing ovation and roses being thrown at the stage! The instrumental pieces of La La Land are the most impressive elements, managing to coax all the right emotions (melancholy, joy, sadness) out of the audience, while the songs are a tad hit-and-miss.
La La Land has a simple story and it looks at the idea of following your dreams, along with the crippling fear of failure and compromises that you may have to make, in quite a fresh, relatable manner and breaking the film into chapters based around the seasons is a very clever move, effectively mirroring the changes in Mia and Seb’s relationship. Also, while the film is an affectionate homage to classic musicals like Singin’ in the Rain and An American in Paris, it is also appropriately modern in places, with YouTube and ringtones that interrupt musical numbers! The film cleverly also looks at the notion of the adaptation and mutation of jazz music, another element that sets La La Land apart from other, similar films.
So does La La Land manage to live up to the tremendous hype? For me, it doesn’t. As with films like Whiplash and The Revenant, this is a very good film that has been overhyped, overpraised and smothered with Oscar buzz. Damien Chazelle remains a fair distance away from my list of favourite filmmakers.