La La Land movie full length review - An unashamedly romantic musical, infused with intense charisma and devastating emotion
I was interested in seeing this film because not only am I a sucker for a good musical, but I'll admit to being a big fan of Ryan Gosling and I was intrigued to see what the director of Whiplash would do with a musical picture to make it fresh and unique.
So when I had the chance to see a late-planned viewing at the London Film Festival, I jumped at the chance (FYI, Ryan Gosling came to the screening as a surprise post- film Q&A attendee despite not appearing at the Headline Gala the night before so I was chuffed!)
The premise of the story is that Stone is a young actress who has moved to LA to wait tables while auditioning to try and '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 great music throughout.
The most impressive thing about the film, for me, is just how daringly it dances between the old-fashioned "Singing' In The Rain" style of musical, and a bolder, modern style. The song numbers are great (the opening number received a round of applause in my viewing) and are an undoubted homage to classic musicals - a thoughtful mixture of old school dance numbers you'd expect from a musical in the 50s, 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 day; actresses using 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 1950s. The cinematography is beautiful and overall the film is visually stunning. There is also no doubt that 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 wanna 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 sorts of lines can't be matched, and it's easy to see why the producers said in the post-film Q&A that he was the person they wanted for the role in their wildest dreams. It's a role 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 that I mentioned earlier. He manages to convey such convincing emotion without so much as a word.
I'd feel bad if I didn't also praise Emma Stone, who has probably never been better. She has 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 unashamedly romantic musical, infused not only with 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. I'm annoyed I'll have to wait so long to see it again, frankly.
Will surely win multiple Oscars and other awards.