La La Land (2016)

Review #1,382

Director:  Damien Chazelle
Cast:  Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, J.K. Simmons
Plot:  A jazz pianist falls for an aspiring actress in Los Angeles.

Genre:  Musical / Romance 
Awards:  Won Best Actress & Nom. for Golden Lion (Venice).  Won 6 Oscars - Best Director, Best Leading Actress, Best Cinematography, Best Production Design, Best Original Score, Best Original Song.  Nom. for 8 Oscars - Best Picture, Best Leading Actor, Best Original Screenplay, Best Film Editing, Best Costume Design, Best Original Song, Best Sound Mixing, Best Sound Editing
Runtime:  128min
Rating:  PG13 for some language
International Sales:  Lionsgate
Singapore Distributor:  Golden Village Pictures

“It's pretty strange that we keep running into each other.”

La La Land, among other films, reminds me most of The Artist (2011), a picture that doesn’t immediately come to mind, considering the references from dozens of movies that Damien Chazelle’s third feature pays tribute to.  The opening musical number is somewhat inspired by Fellini’s 8 ½ (1963) and Godard’s Weekend (1967), shot in a series of long takes that make up one faux longer take that sucks you into the movie.  It is one of the most immediately likable of openings I have seen this year. 

As the movie progresses, it becomes both an homage to the Classical Hollywood musicals of the 1930s to 1950s, and an anachronistic take on the genre—visually La La Land evokes the designs of musicals from yesteryears, but its characterisations and editing style reflect contemporary sensibilities.  Which brings me to The Artist, essentially an homage to the silent era of moving pictures, but its approach was also refreshingly modern.  Just like The Artist, La La Land is a frontrunner for Best Picture at the Oscars, and if it wins, it will certainly not surprise anyone. 

Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone play Sebastian and Mia, who fall in love with each other.  Sebastian is a pianist, versatile in many performing styles, and harbouring dreams of setting up his own jazz club.  Mia, almost always disappointed at how her auditions go, hopes to become an actress and playwright.  They are both dreamers, perfectly compatible with each other, but they are also forced to confront the pragmatic realities of their own futures.  (Quite the story of my life right now.) 

Heartfelt and emotional with a touch of poignancy, La La Land is also flamboyant and joyous.  It is this spread of wild and subtle emotions, expressed through the mesmerizing choreography of song and dance, and sometimes the solitude of an instrumental soliloquy, that confirms Chazelle’s aptitude and ambition for filmmaking.  After the stunning success of Whiplash (2014), La La Land shows that the hotshot director is no one-trick pony. 

Gosling is good in this one (though his singing is a tad disappointing), but Stone is on another level altogether, and will surely earn her a second Oscar nomination with a performance that is the heartbeat of the film.  La La Land reminds us of the magic of the movies—but while it falls short of being a masterpiece (that word gets thrown around too frequently), there’s no doubt it is one of the best films of the year, and will be an audience favourite for years to come. 

Verdict:  Mesmerizingly choreographed and featuring a brilliant performance by Emma Stone, this anachronistic musical-romance proves that hotshot director Damien Chazelle is no one-trick pony.


Click here to go back to Central Station.




Popular Posts