La La Land (2016)

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Director: Damien Chazelle

Cast: Ryan Gosling & Emma Stone

Review Author: Shaun

Rating: 4.9 / 5 – Cans of Guinness

Well, its January and that only means one thing: the release of the Oscar bait movies. Saying that I was very excited to see this film is an understatement because not only am I a sucker for a good musical, but I’ll admit to being interested in the pairing of Gosling and Stone. Also, I was intrigued to see what the director of Whiplash would do with a musical picture to make it fresh and unique.

The premise of the story is that Stone is a young actress who has moved to LA to wait tables while auditioning to try to ‘make it’, while Gosling is a jazz purist (“Anyone who doesn’t like jazz just doesn’t have the right…context”, he insists) who plays the piano in bars to make a living and dreams of opening his own Jazz bar. Or to put it succinctly – “Two young artists meet and fall in love while chasing their dreams”. The musical flows thematically from first love to heartbreak and every other emotion between, with a great score throughout.

The most impressive thing about the film is just how daringly it dances between the old-fashioned “Singing In The Rain” style of musical to a bolder, modern take on the genre. The songs and dance numbers are great and are an undoubted homage to classic musicals – a thoughtful mixture of old school dance numbers you’d expect from a musical in the 50’s, and emotionally-wrenching ballads that hit you where it hurts. There is one particular sequence toward the end of the film which is a real gut-punch.

Stylistically the film skirts this same line; the film again looks and acts like a classic musical but frequently we see low-key reminders that this is modern times; actresses use their iPhones, a video being seen on YouTube, etc. to remind us that this is set in the present day. If we didn’t have these reminders, the visuals would almost have you thinking that this is the 1950’s. The cinematography is beautiful and overall the film is visually stunning. It is wonderfully directed with the same masterful control of pace and tension that we come to expect from Damien Chazelle thanks to Whiplash.

Gosling, in particular, is absolutely terrific, with a typically sardonic wit throughout. At the start of the film when his sister says she’s worried about him as life seems to have him on the ropes, he responds “I want to be on the ropes. I’m just letting life think it has me and then before you know it – BAM. It’s a classic rope-a-dope”. His delivery of these lines can’t be matched. Gosling owns the part and it shows with the role being made for him with tons more of the above kind of lines. But more than that, Gosling captures a real emotional intensity at the film’s emotional breaking points, more specifically in the sequence towards the end of the film which I won’t spoil. He manages to convey such convincing emotion without so much as a word.

Emma Stone also gives a fantastic performance. She has a wonderful emotional range, from the ecstatic highs of love to the tearful, painful lows. In terms of the Gosling/Stone films, this is by far the best. Their undoubted chemistry is given the full spotlight in this film with freedom to explore said chemistry without restriction.

The film is ultimately everything it had the potential to be – an unashamed romantic musical, infused not only with a great song and dance numbers but with intense emotion and charisma from Gosling/Stone, wonderful visuals and a unique pacing and tension from Chazelle. Oh, and it’s hilarious throughout too. A genuine achievement – must be one of the best films I’ve seen in a long while, coming off the Golden Globes it is easy to see why it cleaned up and is sure to do well at this year’s Oscars.

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