La La Land (2016) review

Rarely does a film touch, inspire and exhaust you all at once. But with his musical, ‘La La Land’, Damien Chazelle, director of the equally incredible ‘Whiplash’, has again managed to create a modern masterpiece. The unique stylistic choices as well as the magical soundtrack make this a filmmaker’s dream and truly worthy of its academy awards.

There is more than a hint of homage to the classic MGM musicals of the 50’s here and you’d be forgiven for forgetting throughout its two-hour runtime that it’s set in modern day Hollywood. The stylistic production choices make us view L.A with the hope, glitz and glamour that aspiring actors, musicians and writers feel in the city of dreams. Our conduits to explore the main theme of love or following your dreams are Emma Stone as Mia, an aspiring actress and Ryan Gosling as Sebastian, who dreams of owning a jazz club. Both play their roles with a blend of stylistic joy and contrasting harsh realism. As we follow their perfectly coordinated dance numbers against beautiful, typical Hollywood imagery we are concurrently shown the harsh truth; in order to achieve their dreams, they cannot be together. Or, so the ending leads us to believe. The brutality comes from a lingering thought that, as with all relationships, with better communication and some slightly altered choices, they could’ve had their cake and eaten it too.

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As well as presenting its central theme with near flawless execution, the film also employs a visual style that makes it entirely unique, yet familiar. Many scenes keep the dialogue to a minimum and let the fantastic imagery, colours and music do most of the talking. Every element of the production team is clearly giving their best work and is allowed to show off with some of the most beautiful shots I’ve ever seen in a movie. The acting focus is also put almost exclusively onto Gosling and Stone bar the odd secondary character. This allows us as an audience to empathise, understand and relate to both of these people, making the ending all the more tragic. The 1950’s style camera footage presenting what could’ve been between them is equal parts clever and emotionally manipulative. I believe Chazelle may in fact be, an evil mastermind akin to a Bond villain.

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Despite all of the excellent cinematographic and stylistic choices, a musical would be nothing with mediocre songs. Luckily, all of them hit the mark. Though most are not your typical musical karaoke songs, they enhance the mood and drive the narrative forward beautifully. The use of colour as a device is also wonderfully employed here to drive the stereotypical view of showbiz, with strong block colours in both costume and set and backgrounds that could almost be paintings. Couple this with some incredibly inventive cinematography and every shot becomes a dream to watch.

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‘La La Land’ is one of few films I’ve seen in the past few years that deserves the title of a modern masterpiece. It’s engaging, beautiful and a true joy to watch. It uses every creative element of the filmmaking process to create something not only visually stunning, but narratively interesting and exciting, leaving the audience breathless by its conclusion. A comment on the pursuit of dreams and what we’ll sacrifice to achieve them, it’s in my mind, a perfect picture.

★★★★★

 

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