It’s fashionable to sneer at movies with a follow-your-dreams theme, but if La La Land doesn’t put a smile on your face then frankly I feel sorry for you. Damien Chazelle’s Oscar-tipped musical will, I suspect, sweep the board at this year’s Academy Awards, and it just might deserve to.
Following on from his excellent Whiplash, Chazelle here stages a full-on, properly nostalgic, old school Hollywood musical. Aspiring actress Mia (Emma Stone) meets down on his luck jazz pianist Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), who dreams of opening his own jazz club. There is an immediate attraction between them, but will their relationship potentially derail their respective dreams through compromise?
Stone and Gosling, two of my favourite current movie stars, are both massively appealing. Their chemistry really fizzles, aided by a superb screenplay, tremendously choreographed musical numbers, Justin Hurwitz’s music, and a genuine love for the genre that oozes from every frame. Chazelle’s obvious influences include Singin’ in the Rain (referenced multiple times), A Star is Born, Top Hat and The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. Less obviously, Alan Parker’s Fame and Woody Allen’s Everyone says I love you (in the stunningly choreographed opening gridlock sequence and a gravity defying dance respectively) are given a tip of the hat, and there’s even a bit of Pulp Fiction-esque narrative jiggery pokery.
A lot has been said about this being a “feel good” film, but despite the overall light tone, that description is somewhat misleading. In fact, this is at times a surprisingly melancholy film which adds just the right pinch of salt to the sugar. Innocence and optimism are crushed, the shadow of compromise lurks around every corner, and both Mia and Sebastian learn important lessons about confidence, ambition, pride and the hidden cost of taking great career opportunities.
However La La Land is by no means heavy and depressing. It is ultimately a poignant and romantic piece of escapism, a blast of pure nostalgia, and a cinematic joy. I loved it.