Following the bewilderingly positive reaction to Whiplash, one of the most overrated films in recent memory, writer-director Damien Chazelle followed it up with a risky prospect - a musical love letter to Hollywood. And, of course, the risk paid off and ecstatic reviews, huge box office and awards a-plenty followed. Now that the fuss has died down and, with the hype but a distant memory, is La La Land really something to sing about?
A jazz musician and an aspiring actress fall in love in LA where everybody wants to be famous. But professional opportunities jeopardise the relationship. Will they make it?
Sound familiar? Like many great musicals, the plot of La La Land plays second fiddle to the songs, the dancing, the cinematography and the characters. This is akin to the classic MGM musicals of old, not the complex likes of Cabaret or West Side Story. In respecting all that we love about those films, Chazelle has pulled a blinder, filling his glorious film with an energy that fizzes on the screen, wonderful music that feels new and familiar at once and starring two leads that have more chemistry than Boots.
Gosling and Stone are just perfect. In early scenes they are hilarious, mocking each other and denying any attraction. They’re genuinely touching as the first bloom of love opens, making us care about their hopes and dreams, and heart breaking as things turn sour. You can’t imagine anyone else starring in the film - rumors of the original casting of Emma Watson and Miles Teller provoking a mass sigh of relief that that didn't work out.
La La Land is a film which benefits from repeat viewing, making it a must-have on Blu-Ray. Musicals often grow in affection when we get to know the songs - it’s hard to imagine now what it was like hearing and seeing Gene Kelly doing Singing in the Rain when it was brand new, part of our love of it being completely entrenched in nostalgia. Most of La La Land expertly balances feelings both fresh and nostalgic - new enough to be more than a clever homage, but familiar enough to conjure memories and feelings of beloved musicals gone by.
The film also looks magnificent, and on Blu-Ray it retains its bright, colour-drenched, LA hued glory.
Of course it will be remembered as much for the Oscar mix-up as anything else. In a year of outstanding films, (we’re thinking Arrival), one film certainly stood out as something truly special, a genuinely astonishing achievement, and that film was Moonlight, the deserved Best Film winner.
But that’s not to detract from just how good La La Land is, utterly justifying why it caused such a big song and dance. Joyous.
LA LA LAND / CERT: 12A / DIRECTOR & SCREENPLAY: DAMIEN CHAZELLE / STARRING: EMMA STONE, RYAN GOSLING, JOHN LEGEND, ROSEMARIE DEWITT / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW