La La Land, written and directed by Damien Chazelle, is vibrant, fun and uplifting; a clear love letter to a time in cinema that’s long past. Chazelle really does construct something that’s so full of wonder and romance. Films like this don’t really exist anymore, and to see something be so unabashedly what it is, certainly makes for an enchanting film watching experience. But… the film is lacking in something, and while it isn’t a mood killer, it was something that was forever on my mind. La La Land is a film with heaps upon heaps of praise (and rightly so) but I still have one main issue with the film; an issue that I have to talk about. So let’s make our way into the review and see what it is that makes the film so loved.
The film revolves around, Mia – played by Emma Stone – a struggling actress who’s desperately searching for her first big break, and Sebastian – played by Ryan Gosling – a Jazz pianist who is lamenting the slow death of the genre of music he adores to not only listen to, but also play. Odd coincidences keep bringing the two together and what slowly forms is a relationship that delights and at times hurts. With a classic feel; the film pulls you in with its love story and also rewards you with musical numbers that get stuck in your head.
It is the two lead performances and their characters that are the heart and soul of this film. Both Gosling and Stone are absolutely enchanting; their chemistry in undeniable and their presence either on their own or with one another is something that is forever present and so full of motion. There is just something so enjoyable about watching these two actors play off of one another. Whether it is one of the many musical moments or it is a conventional scene, I just couldn’t help but be fully enveloped in their story and their performances.
One of the scenes that stands-out in my memory is actually one that isn’t the happiest. It’s late on in the film when their relationship is struggling; after all the shared happiness, when it then came to this moment where the two characters were just laying into one another and being brutally honest, it highlighted something for me (many things in fact). Seeing the two characters tear each other down was genuinely sad to watch, I had completely fallen for their relationship and so much of it was something that made me happy. It’s also a testament to the performances by the two actors, that they could get me to react how I did (internally) and be so hurt over the scene, really does show what the film is able to achieve and also what the actors are able to achieve over the course of its runtime. But more than anything, the scene just purely highlights the acting abilities of the actors – which are brilliant.
The characters were an interesting situation for me. On the one hand, I loved seeing them up on the screen, and the qualities that made up the characters – Sebastian’s love for Jazz and Mia’s love for classic cinema – were things I could fully get behind when it comes to loving them. But interestingly, I never felt I truly connected with the characters on an individual level. I feel that both, Mia and Sebastian didn’t really ever flourish into individuals that I knew or fully connected with. In the grand scheme of La La Land, they felt lacking in the overall development that I would have liked. It’s when the two are together that I connected with them. Their love story and their relationship is something I invested in, and was something that I never tiered of.
So this of course created a problem for me; in one respect I really wanted more from the characters – more depth and more exploration. But on the other hand, I absolutely adored every other aspect of the film – it had me completely enraptured by every other moment it offered up. This left me conflicted, but what I don’t think it did was ruin my overall experience with the film. It’ll just be a little nagging point forever in the back of my mind.
Sidebar: John Legend was a distracting, unnecessary addition to the film and I really could have done with him not being there.
But I now of course must talk about the primary aspect of La La Land that has everybody raving about it: the musical component of the film. It’s intoxicating, its smile inducing, it is utterly enjoyable every moment it is happening. I can’t praise the music and the dancing enough in this film – everything about it is just upliftingly fun.
I personally quite enjoy a musical and I’m always up for seeing one, but even I’m willing to admit that musicals have very clear problems. Thankfully, I feel that La La Land is able to dance around those problems (apologies for the pun) and find a good balance between the musical segments and the conventional films moments. I wasn’t sure the format could support the 2 hour runtime (in a cinema setting) but, Damien Chazelle builds the film in such a way that it does work.
And speaking of, Damien Chazelle, this man is a wizard of filmmaking. This is now the third film by, Chazelle to have music as one of its primary components and what is clear to see is that this man knows how to construct, shoot and edit music in films. ‘Whiplash’ was a revolution in how music could appear in a film, and La La Land is a clear evolution of that – though instead of drums it’s both singing, dancing and the occasional piano playing.
What I think makes it all work so well, and cause you to have such a rewarding feeling come from it, is that Chazelle knows exactly where to put the camera and how to use the camera – mainly in the wide and on a Steadicam unit. So not only do you get to see the scope of the musical number, but when its necessary, you then also get to go up close and almost become a part of the experience. It all makes for a fluid, energetic set of scenes, all which look and feel full of life. But then what also happens is that those scenes are edited in the most perfect way. Chazelle showed this style in, Whiplash and then utilises it again in this film (sometimes). But the best decision editing wise, is that he leaves the scene to play out; never cutting unnecessarily or chopping it all up so that its jarring and stuttery. It all makes for scenes with such momentum to them; scenes that keep you engaged and smiling the whole way through.
And then the element that ties it all together is the subtle, yet beautiful look to the film. Chazelle somehow makes the harsh concrete world of L.A. look like a magical place – one of twinkling lights and star filled skies. It was clear that he had a particular look that he was going for, and he nailed it. This love letter that Damien Chazelle constructed for a time in Hollywood that has long past, is meaningful and beautiful.
La La Land has a lot going for it: with its enchanting lead performers, its musical moments that have you transfixed, and its overall style, which is undeniably beautiful. You are just constantly rewarded with a film and an experience that is unlike anything out there right now.
I’m obviously going to recommend, La La Land. Everyone is talking about it, and for good reason. Get out there and see this film, it’s one that’s going to stick around in people’s minds for a while and those people are going to want to talk about it.
I’d of course love to hear your thoughts on, La La Land, or my review of it. Feel free to leave those in the comments section down below. Feel like knowing when I post new reviews? Then may I suggest either following my blog directly, or following me over on Twitter – @GavinsRamblings. Thank you for dedicating some of your time towards reading my review, you swell individual.