Film review: LA LA LAND, from ‘Built For Speed’

La La Land is Whiplash director Damien Chazelle’s exhilarating homage to 1950’s musicals and the artists who struggle to make it in the dubious city of dreams that is LA.  Superbly crafted from its touching love story to its vibrant cinematography and sprightly musical numbers this is a cinematic experiment that works from beginning to end.

Chazelle’s triumph is his alchemic skill in taking old fashioned movie elements and conjuring from them something new and exciting.  On paper, the plot, which depicts a burgeoning romance between aspiring actress Mia (Emma Stone) and disenchanted jazz pianist Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) and their struggle with artistic dreams might have seemed clichéd.  Chazelle and the two leads, however, manage to infuse this story with moving pathos as Mia despondently stumbles from one humiliating audition to another all the while watching her dream of stardom evaporate and Sebastian sees the music he loves dying from public neglect.

Critically, the two leads have remarkable chemistry.  Emma Stone has always been ineffably charming but she also brings a flinty quality that prevents the romantic scenes from becoming too saccharine.  Gosling can be arrogant and aloof in some films which would seem to work against his appeal as a romantic lead but here he brings an enjoyable touch of goofiness as well as believable artistic intensity to the role of jazz obsessed Sebastian.

Pulling off a musical in which people burst into song at key moments is a tough ask in front of a cynical 21st century cinema audience. Chazelle succeeds, however, through inventiveness and the sheer quality of his filmmaking. The musical numbers are wonderfully staged making excellent use of LA landmarks and tasteful cgi effects.  A magical sequence set at the famous Griffith Observatory is guaranteed to bring a lump to any film buff’s throat.

Importantly, the songs are also sufficiently well-spaced that they they don’t interfere with the unfolding narrative.  In the dance numbers it’s clear that Gosling and Stone are no Fred and Ginger but they’re not meant to be, they’re ordinary people caught up in a romantic fantasy.

The danger with a film like this is that it simply becomes an exercise in nostalgia and excessive reverence for the gods of old Hollywood; an accusation that could have been made of academy award winner The Artist.  Thankfully, Chazelle channels that affection for Hollywood history into a love of cinema itself so the romance here is not just between Mia and Sebastian but between the audience and movies.

Nick’s rating: ****

Genre: Musical/ romance/ drama.

Classification: M.

Director(s): Damien Chazelle.

Release date: 26th December 2016.

Running time: 128 mins.

Screening at: General release.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast.


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