La La Land review: Triumphant celebration not just of the musical but Hollywood

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La La Land tap dance scene. Pic: Dale Robinette/Lionsgate

It’s easy to see why La La Land is being touted as an Academy Awards frontrunner. Damien Chazelle’s film is upbeat yet grounded, fantastical but authentic.

At the heart of La La Land is a simple romance narrative where creative ambitions strain the seams of the two main protagonist’s relationship.

Emma Stone plays Mia, an aspiring actor looking to get her big break in the cartoon world of Hollywood. While Ryan Gosling’s Sebastian harbours dreams of owning his own jazz club.

La La Land opens with an audacious song and dance sequence in the middle of a traffic jam on a bridge in Los Angeles. In what seems to be one continuous shot, a large cast breaks out into an impromptu rendition of Another Day of Sun – a central number of the film.

The truly breath-taking opening bolts audiences to their seats for the next two hours.

However, it does feel as if Chazelle is trying to justify this as a musical by cramming in three sequences in the first 15 minutes. That said, all the song and dance sequences strike the right tone – they are variably extravagant, mystical and reflective.

The bright colours and rapid but smooth transitions keep your eyes glued to the screen.

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There’s an absence of a Singin’ In The Rain-esque sing-along ditty. Though it is packed with infectious numbers.

La La Land is a celebration not just of the musical but Hollywood. There’s obvious references to Casablanca and the main characters visit the historic Rialto Theatre for a viewing of Rebel Without a Cause.

In Stone and Gosling Hollywood has the modern day Bergman and Bogart. It’s hard to think of another ‘Hollywood couple’ capable of pulling off a performance with such pizzazz.

The tap dance sequence above the hills of Los Angeles will be remembered for generations to come.

There’s also the part where Mia, in the middle of a casting session, is interrupted. The raw emotion Stone puts into the scene is mesmerising.

Gosling’s performance is effortless. His ability to balance goofiness, as seen in Shane Black’s The Nice Guys, while being sincere makes his turn as Seb a success.

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Emma Stone as Mia in La La Land. Pic: Lionsgate

A central theme of the narrative is that creativity cliché of staying true to your dreams versus compromise. However, there is a tasteful conclusion to the story. Once again brilliantly pulled off by Stone and Gosling in the final scene, where simple facial expressions tie-up the bittersweet narrative.

In interviews Ryan Gosling has stated that he wanted to make a musical that everyone would enjoy and La La Land is certainly a film that transcends the genre.

The musical never went away. La La Land though will have done for the genre what The Artist did for the silent movie. Don’t be surprised if this becomes a staple of the bank holiday TV schedule in the future.

Much like it’s portrayal of the imperfect glitz of Hollywood, “They worship everything and they value nothing” Seb decries, La La Land has a few rough edges. But the rough edges are what makes this such a loveable film. It’s triumphant but sincere.

10/10

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