Classic film is merely a memory for many; a haze of rain-soaked afternoons with our grandparents in front of the television, of singing about our favourite things and dancing in the rain, a long forgotten time when a films colour was advertised in its opening credits and actresses still had that glamorous pan-Atlantic accent. It was one of Hollywood’s most successful times, and with such a different environment in today’s Hollywood it would take a master of cinema to return us to such magic.
Luckily for us, we have Damien Chazelle. His 2014 film Whiplash was met with great success and acclaim, and now he’s telling an entirely different musical story, mixing traditional and modern storytelling to create a new classic in La La Land. In the sunny Hollywood hills, aspiring actress Mia (Emma Stone) and struggling jazz pianist Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) fall in love as they attempt to find themselves and their place in the world, and in this tender romance can be found this years’ best film.
La La Land is an homage to classic film, and yet its own thing entirely; it draws on classic film tropes yet subverts them, bringing a great sense of nostalgia as Mia and Sebastian chase their traditional Hollywood dreams in a city that’s moved on. Mia is writing her own one-woman show; Sebastian dreams of opening his own jazz club; and as Hollywood throws their plans and tests their dreams, they remain achingly real, through all the heartbreak and success they experience.
Recreating the glamour of Hollywood but pairing it with such a real, grounded romance and imperfect characters highlights the magic of their love, and of loving Hollywood. Though this magical realism is most obvious in the dazzling planetarium scene and Mia and Sebastian’s waltz amongst the stars, it is at its bittersweet best in the final montage scene of Mia and Sebastian’s life, the Hollywood painted sets and dream-like Parisian streets melding together to create a perfect surreality.
The movie’s beautiful message about the integrity of Hollywood and what success and failure mean to each of us is beautiful and compelling, and Emma Stone’s performance as Mia as she goes through the ups and downs of the studio system is heartbreaking but subtle. Her true talent is on display, both as a performer and a comedian in the film’s many musical numbers, but especially as an artist, culminating in her powerful final audition that is unbelievably moving. Ryan Gosling is also fantastic, oozing charm and wit, but also sadness and passion as he detours from his dream to ultimately open his jazz club. His relationship with Stone was sweet, intimate and lovely, and their romance is so real; they love and support each other through their dreams, but are still normal, not grandiose, but right for each other. Their chemistry crackles as they perform together too, their soft singing voices blending together perfectly to create highlights in the film’s sublime soundtrack.
This soundtrack, of course, is a masterpiece, blending elements of jazz and classical music to make catchy big performance numbers and unforgettable instrumental themes. Because it’s not the big set piece performances that are the most memorable; the film’s brassy jazz, heartfelt themes and gentle piano score is the best part, adding layers of love, tragedy and a feeling of dreaming to every scene. Sebastian is right; everyone should love jazz.
And yet, the La La Land’s cinematography is the most transcendental part, with Chazelle’s whimsical yet intimate direction enhancing every emotional beat of the film, whether light or more sober. The purple-skied Hollywood landscapes and sunny sandstone-housed streets are a dream; the old red theatres and and low-lit jazz bars reminiscent of Hollywood’s finest times. And the dreamy planetarium is a stunning feat of cinema, with the silhouetted star waltz creating real life magic.
In one scene in the film, Sebastian and his friend Keith argue over how to keep jazz alive, and, much to Sebastian’s horror, Keith says that jazz is dead, and has to fundamentally change to stay alive. La La Land is a remedy to that school of thought in Hollywood; it is a love letter to what made Hollywood sparkle in the Golden Age, but is still its own film, innovative and different. It takes the glamour and dreaminess of the classics, and grounds them in real stories and characters, and creates a timeless tale full of fun, heartbreak and love. La La Land keeps one foot on the ground, but isn’t afraid to walk amongst the stars.
10/10 (Can I go 11?)
And what a brilliant cast. Here’s my top five favourite films starring the cast of La La Land:
- Crazy, Stupid, Love – Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling
- Easy A – Emma Stone
- The Notebook – Ryan Gosling
- The Big Short – Ryan Gosling
- Zootopia – JK Simmons
Photos taken from IMDb.com: