La La Land is a film from the time movies forgot – the classic jazz and romanticism of technicolor in the hustle and bustle of modern LA. A challenge if ever there was, but one that director Damien Chazelle accomplishes without bordering on the Grease like cheese factor.
As the opening scene commenced and brightly dressed LA dwellers emerged from their cars in an all singing, all dancing montage that is not dissimilar to West Side Story meets REM’s Everybody Hurts, I was worried as to what I’d gotten myself into – was I about to be subjected to two hours of full on Fame style dance breaks, and did I actually have the energy to sit through this? Because despite being a musical theatre baby, my days of Sound of Music repeats are well and truly over…
Oh how wrong I was. If there is one thing to say about La La land, it’s that it’s not just a musical homage, it’s a clever one. The musical backdrop simply aids a surreal and enjoyable through line rather than being the sole element of the film.
At the core falls the two leads, Mia (Emma Stone) and Seb (Ryan Gosling) – modern day star crossed lovers with a realist premise. Mia is an audition-a-week aspiring actress who pays her way working as a coffee shop girl at the Warner Bros studios, immersing herself in the dream, but serving up coffee in the reality. Seb, a jazz pianist with the vision of having a club of his own, but without the means to pursue it. Both have a dream and talent, are down and out, young at heart and not hitting the right beats. What they seek is the opportunity, but what they find is each other.
It’s no Leo and Kate – it’s a witty script that drives the connection of two down and out dreamers who just keep crossing paths to fall into each other. It’s a movie with old school vibes and values – the kind of film that doesn’t get made today, but with modern day realism. People don’t naturally burst into song, they need a reason to and Chazelle’s screenplay shows what makes people tick. While the dancing is tip top and the vocals far from being click-tracked Broadway style, what makes this musical work is that it’s in tune, it’s pretty, and it could be any star crossed couple singing down the street at 3am – not one forged from Rogers and Hammerstein.
While it’s easy to make comparisons to Baz Lurhman for creating a modern love story musical, what differs here is that although it feels very much like a show, a visual enchantment and joy for the senses; real people can actually relate to the film through the realness of the script, the familiar struggles and the chemistry between Gosling and Stone which represents the difficulty of the classic fairy-tale we all seek. The values of the traditional musical meet the opposition of modern day realism.
It’s a beautiful film to watch – one that will leave the hardest of hearts softened, and the dreamers laughing, crying and cringing all at the same time. That movie they say no one makes anymore? It’s just been made.