REVIEW – La La Land

This is an advanced review where I saw a movie before the official release date, with thanks to the Moonlight Cinema. La La Land will release in all theaters across Australia on December 26th.

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Well, folks, Oscar season appears to have well and truly arrived on Australian soil with this one. Damien Chazelle, the director of the highly acclaimed drama Whiplash, has turned his attention to the musicals of the old Hollywood era and brought the style back in a big way in La La Land – currently the hot favourite to win Best Picture at the Oscars.

And should it fulfill that win it will be a very well deserved win. It’s a beautiful movie, expertly crafted and full of vibrant colours, wonderful performances and memorable music. Now, I love a good musical, I really do. I know some (a lot of) people do not. I’d say that this is a musical that is accessible to anyone except the most ardent and stubborn haters of the genre, and it will hopefully be a film that sees the medium have something of a resurgence. I don’t know why we haven’t gotten more musicals recently.

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Wait. No. I do remember.

La La Land is a love story, but it is primarily a story about the city of Los Angeles itself. Right off the bat, we are shown Los Angeles as the “city of dreams”, and the reality that comes with that. Our two main characters came to LA with a dream, and the city is slowly crushing it. Mia went to LA to become an actress, and she finds herself as a barista who has to juggle her work with countless auditions. Sebastian is a jazz pianist, and a purist who wants nothing more than to keep the traditions of the jazz clubs alive. He finds himself playing Christmas carols in restaurants and pumping out 80’s hits at parties. The movie follows Mia and Sebastian as they form a relationship with each other whilst trying desperately to achieve their dreams.

Right off the bat, I will clarify that the plot itself was my least favourite part of this movie. That’s not to say that I hated the plot at all, in fact I liked it fine. I can be a bit cynical when it comes to love stories, but very few of the scenes felt cloying or “overly Hollywood”, which is something that does annoy me. There were one or two elements of this, but it was quashed pretty quickly. It’s just that the rest of the film was far better than this rather simple but effective plotline. So, now that’s out of the way, let’s get onto the stuff I loved about this film. And warning – the stuff I liked, I REALLY liked, so there is some gushing incoming.

The acting was incredible from the two leads. Sebastian was played by Ryan Gosling, who we know can turn the charm up to 11 whenever he wants to, and he was outstanding. But despite all his strengths as an actor and performer, he paled into insignificance next to the acting masterclass that was presented by Emma Stone as Mia. She was simply phenomenal. It’s going to be a tough year to try and get a Best Actress Oscar, with Amy Adams (Arrival) and Natalie Portman (Jackie – review coming early next year) also gathering a lot of buzz, but Emma Stone is definitely up there with a chance. Adding to the charm is the chemistry that Stone and Gosling have with one another. The two actors previously starred together in Crazy Stupid Love and Gangster Squad, and this experience has led to a very easy chemistry with one another.

The rest of the cast includes veteran actor J.K. Simmons, TV actress Rosemarie DeWitt and R&B singer John Legend. All of the supporting cast do their job well, but the film truly is a vehicle for the leads.

Next up is the cinematography. If you look at the movie poster at the top of this screen, you might see a very beautiful scene with Gosling and Stone dancing in front of a purple sunset. This entire movie is that beautiful. It’s taken film back to a time when it was an art form. The cinematographer, Linus Sandgren, hasn’t really etched a name for himself until now – his biggest work appears to be for American Hustle, which was a fine movie but not perhaps noted for it’s cinematography. But with La La Land, this guy has announced himself as a force that will take Hollywood by storm. I can’t wait to see more of his work if he can keep up this standard.

Finally, the last point I’ll make is the music. It’s a musical so it must be touched on. The music of this film can be split into 2 categories. Firstly, the jazz music that is included is perfectly…. jazzy. In a jazz sort of way. I mean, I’m trying to hide it but I’m no connoisseur of jazz. That said, the jazz music in this film is groovy enough that I was entertained.

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Not that sort of groovy…..

Of course, more prominent is the show tunes that come with the territory of a throwback musical. There’s so many hits here – “City of Stars”, “Another Day of Sun”, “Someone in the Crowd”. The track “Audition” by Emma Stone is particularly powerful, acting as the “11 o’clock” number as they say in the biz (I found that phrase on Google. I’m not actually that well versed in “the biz”). And the choreography in one track, “A Lovely Night”, is straight out of the Fred Astaire/Ginger Rodgers playbook. It’s a fantastic soundtrack and a must have for any musical lover.

Overall, I think this was a brilliant movie. With its imagery, it probably works best on the big screen, so if you want to see this one I definitely recommend seeing it in theatres. Overall, there were one or two weaknesses within the plot, but these were easily forgiven due to the sheer magnificence of everything else.

4.8/5 – One of the best movies of the year and an absolute joy to watch. An instant classic, in every sense of the word.

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