Review: La La Land (★★★★½)

4.5 stars

I can’t remember the last time I left the cinema with a smile on my face and a skip in my step. In a time when superheroes flatten cities with laser beam toddler tantrums and the only films anyone really bothers to go see are reboots, La La Land’s refreshing vibrancy and charm highlight it as one of the standout movie experiences of the year. It’s grand set pieces and wonderful composition, intertwined with a touching, personal relationship, gives the same warm feeling movies like ‘Singing In The Rain’ gave whilst subverting the audience’s expectations just enough to make it feel genuinely distinctive.

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La La Land tells the story of Mia and Sebastian, played by Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, as they meet, fall in love and work towards achieving their dreams in Los Angeles. Despite the film’s colourful presentation, the relationship and the hurdles they have to overcome feel genuine and incredibly well developed. Ryan Gosling gives a fantastic performance as the passionate, down on his luck jazz pianist, Sebastian, and after 2016’s ‘Nice Guys’, Gosling is working his way to becoming one of my favourite actors. Emma Stone also gives another wonderful performance as aspiring actress, Mia, and the chemistry between the two of them is electric throughout the movie.

After Damien Chazelle’s last movie ‘Whiplash’, I had high expectations for La La Land. Whiplash showed Chazelle’s deep passion for jazz music and La La Land demonstrates this same passion with flawless execution. Musical movies have a tendency to be overbearing with their musical numbers yet, aside from the opening number, none of the sudden bursts into song and dance feel in any way insincere. It’s organic, natural and doesn’t leave you thinking, ‘Huh, I guess this is the bit where they dance a bit.’

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Chazelle’s distinct camera work is in full motion here too. The same techniques used in Whiplash can be seen, with fast moving swinging shots between characters that really help emphasise the music as well as sweep you through the complicated relationship Mia and Seb share.

Obvious with this type of film the music is paramount to its success. Although the composition beautifully sweeps you through gorgeous set pieces throughout the film, the same cannot be said for the actual songs themselves. They aren’t particularly bad, it’s just that they didn’t live up to the excellence of the score throughout the movie.

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The ‘Singing In The Rain’ analogy has been thrown around a lot when anyone talks about this movie and it quite frankly deserves it. The dance scenes in the movie act not only as spectacle, but also narrative development for the relationship between the two characters. Under the same analogy, I was rather underwhelmed by the singing capabilities of the two leads and although they perfectly represented the characters themselves, I would have much rather had a bit more power behind the melodies.

La La Land is pure joy. It’s wonderfully executed musical numbers weaved beautifully with powerful performances by the leads will leave you entranced and ultimately moved by the time the credits role. Damien Chazelle has produced another world class production and, despite the criticisms I have, is not only an incredibly unique take on the genre, but it’s also a unique experience in today’s movie landscape. I look forward to what else Chazelle can conjure up next, as La La Land definitely deserves the praise it receives.

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