Review: La La Land
Cinema: La La Land (2016)
Cards on the table, I’ve been excited to watch La La Land ever since I heard a passing mention of it some months ago. The duo of Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling starring in a musical for the 21st century was the idea of perfection for me. I’ve always had a soft spot for musicals ever since I first watched Seven Brides for Seven Brothers as a kid, with my Mum. The trailers had my toes tapping and I couldn’t help but mimic the infectious whistling of Gosling as he stands on an L.A pier. However, all that excitement could have easily built me up to be disappointed; thankfully I can easily say this film will feature in my ‘top ten’ for some years.
As the film opens, we’re greeted by the bold logo of ‘Cinemascope’ which develops from it’s humble grainy original image into a wonderfully HD announcement that this is a musical which firmly holds its head up as it carries a Hollywood tradition. A busy L.A intersection is crammed with traffic as we pan down the sides of vehicles, the soundtrack to this is a cacophony of genres of music. The camera comes to rest on a young lady who sings sweetly and builds into an ensemble dance routine that depicts what will follow. What does follow is a film that shows a beautifully multicultural world where people can shine for their talents.
We’re introduced to Mia, played by Emma Stone, who is the archetype of L.A actress wannabe. She works in a coffee shop on the Warner Bros film lot and idolises those who pass by. Seb (Gosling), is a jazz pianist and all he ever dreams of is opening his own jazz club. The two meet, they fall in love and life ensues. Which sounds rather dull, but the two have an astonishing chemistry that captivates. Each line of dialogue is spoken with enthusiasm and the pairs usual charm, which gives the impression of ad-lib performance. This is a lovely juxtaposition to the tightly choreographed dancing; which is superb.
Gosling and Stone are ideal choices for the leading roles. Each of them gives an air of down to Earth nonchalance which is sold through their vocals in each song. There’s a humble frailty to them which endears the audience. We hear each quavering note is sung with passion, rather than Broadway honed talent and it feels refreshing, especially when performed in a world that plays by the rules of musical cinema. The opening ensemble piece is sold with that wry “everyone knows the lyrics and steps and we don’t care” sensation. This follows as the starring pair dance through montaged sets bursting with colour and light.
The standout scene is where they venture out on their first proper date and end up at the observatory which features in Rebel Without a Cause, a film they’ve just watched at The Rialto. As the pair move through exhibits with a rhythm to their steps, they build to a vast number which sees them dancing without gravity. They soar through the air together moving with a beauty rarely seen nowadays and this epitomises the film as a whole.
Emma Stone plays Mia with bags of emotion. Her performance steals the film, which is no easy feat against Ryan Gosling. Stone plays with emotions that tug at the audience, using her big eyes and quirky charm to win us over whether she’s dancing like a fool in the middle of a jazz club or heartbroken and wanting to flee L.A. Of course, I can’t fault Gosling. His determination to play an inspiring role is terrific and he puts everything into each song and dance and line of dialogue. Neither star puts a foot wrong, whether as a duo twirling against an L.A sunset or as a pair falling deeply in love.
La La Land is a film about passion and dreams, with a soundtrack that will stand the test of time and stick tightly to everyone who watches the film. Each scene would make a perfect picture postcard and many of the situations and moments hark back to the days of Gene Kelly and Debbie Reynolds. It’s a love letter to the Hollywood of old and it’s entirely welcome.
Review by Dan, the latest member of the 60 Minutes With review team.