La La Land was always going to be the film for me, before the awards nods and rave reviews, I was excited, I couldn’t wait: a musical with Emma Stone, a Hollywood film about Hollywood filmmakers, Damien Chapelle’s second movie after the crashing excellence of jazz drumming Whiplash, something would have to go seriously wrong for this film not hit me in the heart.
So after finally arriving on UK general release into the cold, darkness of January, on a wave of hype and critical praise, I tried to keep my expectations in check as I sat down to watch this throughly modern musical. If it wasn’t for the fact that I am now in my thirties and have at least a modicum of cynicism more than I did ten years ago, this film, I fear, would have physically broken me. As it was, I was left quite overwhelmed, despite the fact that there is already so much love for La La Land, I had no idea that it would be so personal and affecting.
From the massive opening choreographed number to the final melancholic close, this is almost a note perfect film, with the detail, love and care of a director who knows what cinema and musicals and film history can mean to their audience when done correctly, and with warmth.
La La Land is steeped in nostalgia, with glorious homages to the golden days of Singing in the Rain and Top Hat but at its core is the relationship between Emma Stone’s Mia and Ryan Gosling’s Seb, which is believable, contemporary and funny. They are equally matched and perfectly paired. They crackle and sparkle and delight with their laid back warmth and charm. Emma Stone has been wonderful in everything since Easy A but this is surely her shining moment.
Mia and Seb sing, imperfectly, with the ease of Fred and Ginger and tap together with joyful grace and a beautiful backdrop of the sunrise colours of tinseltown. The whole film is perfectly shot and sound stages are used with a twinkling nod to the cinematic past. It is hopeful and romantic yet melancholy and heartbreaking, it is real and fantastical. We can choose how to read it but can’t fail to be swept along with it. An ode to the dreamers… and the jazz.
In the weeks since I first saw this film, I’ve heard so many arguments about why it isn’t the joyful film I think it is. Yes sure, if you really want to pull it part you could, you can search for its imperfections and shout me down or bash them out on your keypad, but why would you want to? When so much in the world is trying to pull us down, why would you try to stop a film which purpose is to lift us up, up and away into the planetarium stars of the Griffin Observatory, on a waltz and a wish and a song?