I’m sure we’ve all gone into things with expectations. Be that an expectation that something will be great, or the expectation you are going to hate it. It’s fair to say, when it came to La La Land, I was firmly in the latter camp. I hate musicals. I love action movies and thrillers. My favourite director is Christopher Nolan, I’m a big Jackie Chan fan, what on earth was I going to make of this?
From the off, as I’m sure you can guess from the title, I must say I was absolutely blown away by La La Land. I mean I loved Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash movie, 10 Cloverfield Lane I could take or leave, not bad but not a par on with Whiplash and certainly not a patch on La La Land.
Things did get off to a shaky start though. From the initial song, which is the first scene, I thought I was going to hate it, that my expectations had been met. I even made a note that went “starts with a completely unrealistic depiction of a traffic jam in America. People get out of their cars and jump all over everyone else’s and not one person swears or pulls a gun!” I still stand by that.
But, from there in on the movie grabs you and doesn’t let go until the end. Actually, for me personally, that’s not entirely true there were moments that I could quite happily have had left on the cutting room floor. There’s a couple of dancing scenes, no singing, just dancing and they go on for quite some time (in my opinion) and feel a little self-indulgent.
Other than that though Chazelle has wrote and directed something truly stunning. It’s a strange mess of times with modern things like Prius’s and iPhones but swathes of the movie have an old-fashioned, hark back to the musical era of 50’s Hollywood look and feel. It can mess with you a little but at the same time it’s strangely wonderful.
Ryan Gosling (Drive, Crazy, Stupid, Love) and Emma Stone (Easy A, The Help) are our two protagonists (Seb and Mia) who glide through the movie with ease. I wouldn’t say there’s the largest of sparks between them but there’s enough to make you believe. Gosling is a traditionalist at heart, a jazz pianist who hurts at the world as it walks all over the jazz greats. Stone is an aspiring actress, struggling to get her career going, bouncing from one audition to the next.
A true stroke of genius is introducing John Legend (Crazy, Stupid, Love, Django Unchained – also executive producer for the film) as Keith who stands in contrast to Gosling’s traditionalist ways. Legend wants to take jazz to the youth of today and bring a new audience to the scene, something Gosling struggles with.
As our two protagonists fall in love and their careers blossom it also takes them down different paths but, even then, Chazelle has a trick up his sleeve. The final ‘what if’ is brilliant and leaves you with a nice, warm feeling inside.
It’s the true mark of a musical film that it could still work, very much work, without the songs. However, and I’m surprising myself writing this, La La Land would be much the worse without them. Again, Chazelle has been clever with where the songs appear as it’s not always that the whole supporting cast in a scene suddenly breaks into a song and dance routine. By having a protagonist who is a musician it gives him a lot more scope to put musical scenes in that make sense. Songs that make you think ‘yes, that song does belong there, I can see that’.
Speaking of the music a huge mention must go to Justin Hurwitz who wrote the music for La La Land (he also wrote a lot of the music for Whiplash). It’s just sublime and a very nice touch is the comedy that appears in some of the songs, reflecting the light comedy that runs through the film. From large ensemble pieces to more stripped down, solo numbers Hurwitz gives us everything with John Legend throwing in a number of his own too.
I didn’t think I’d like La La Land. I didn’t think I’d like a musical film and I’ve tried to watch most of them. But Chazelle has pulled off what I, and from the reactions it’s receiving I think many, thought couldn’t be done. He’s brought film musicals right up to date and made them accessible to so many more people. Bravo that man, he’s fast becoming my new favourite director.