Oh goddamn! No movie reviews since November?! That needs a change, indeed.
If you’ve been living in a cave for the past few months, La La Land is the sophomore feature effort from Damien Chazelle, who stunned audiences with 2014’s Whiplash and showcased his ability to extract raw performances from his actors, winning JK Simmons all the supporting actor awards. ALL OF THEM. Well, while there may be a lack of car crashes, bleeding on drum kits and the bad C-word, Chazelle shows again that he is a directorial force to reckon with and one that won’t be going anywhere for the next few years.
La La Land, set in modern day Los Angeles, follows a passionate jazz pianist’s picture-perfect romance with an aspiring actress, all wrapped up in a to-die-for golden age aesthetic, complete with big, musical set-pieces and production value, with a budget of $30 million. However, while all the critics, as well as fellow bloggers, have been bawling over this flick, I’m not a musical fan (except for the ones with “horror” in the title), and as such was still slightly apprehensive going into this. Would I be leaving singing it’s praises? Or feeling that it hit a flat note?
To be honest, there is a lot of merit behind the ass-tonnes of praise being launched at this film. On a technical level, it’s as close as perfect as I’ve seen in an age. As I said, Damien Chazelle really shows his directorial prestige with this, as a meticulous level of detail is shown in every single scene. Chazelle treats every single frame as a blank canvas, and he paints a picture of pure cinematic elegance on each one, simultaneously merging an overwhelming feeling of vintage, warm film with a certain level of freshness. The way the cinematography and lighting play with the film’s tone is awe-inspiring and I can’t hesitate to call the entire experience captivating.
That certain level of freshness is also brought by the film’s two leads; Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling. Previously collaborating in 2013’s Gangster Squad but more successfully in 2011’s Crazy, Stupid Love (a surprisingly good romcom), Gosling and Stone bring their already established chemistry to this project in spades, with it being apparent to the audience in every scene that they share. Individually, however, they also shine, with Gosling portraying a passion for music in truly believable nature and Stone showing off an immense range. That being said, with two stars as talented and scene-stealing as these two, it leaves little room for a supporting cast, with JK Simmons having almost a cameo and other performances being left in the dust. This is a trope from vintage-era cinema that I’m not a fan of, as it sometimes leads to the film’s feeling a bit claustrophobic, if only slightly.
As well as directing, chaboi Damien also takes up writing duties. As I said in the intro, while there is only a fraction of the bad language used in Whiplash (though he does sneak in a cheeky f-word), the dialogue has not suffered in the process, with each line leaking that same vintage glamour as the direction. Moreover, there is also an unexpected level of humour in the film, with a couple of chuckleworthy instances peppered throughout.On top of this and his previous efforts, we can clearly see that Chazelle is at least a little bit interested in jazz, or else he wouldn’t have referenced it SO MUCH. Seriously, I didn’t have many problems with this film, but every time Gosling went on about Jermainison Haberdashery and his triple flying trumpet quartet I lost interest. However, Chazelle also packed in a lot more into the story than any promotion has let on. Avoiding any spoilers, I can only say that this film is a lot cleverer than it initially looks and that it’s writing is just complex and intricate as the production itself.
Perhaps why I just described the film as a “production” is that it captured the essence of the musical almost perfectly, with a certain touch added to the whole thing giving it a stagey feel. Whether it was the rehearsed tap dance sequences (that’s plural) or the more intimate monologue like moments, there was a certain authenticity running throughout the movie that isn’t easily matched.
That being said, my one very big problem with La La Land was the quality of the “La La”‘s, or songs to those who aren’t of the age of six. With a musical, you can expect spontaneous seizures of singing and dancing, obviously. But, you also expect a certain catchiness or toe-tapping quality to the songs. While the songs of the soundtrack weren’t necessarily bad, in fact, they were a slice of alright, they lacked a catchiness that left me feeling like I’ve watched a great movie, but not musical.
Overall, La La Land takes an almost-forgotten aesthetic of golden age cinema, with vintage beauty and subtle loveliness, and brings it back to the forefront of modern culture. Stellar performances from stars Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone center the flick in an impeccable way and Damien Chazelle’s writing wraps it up beautifully. However, Chazelle’s directorial effort is what takes the limelight of this film, taking cinematography to a whole new level, with stunning sweeping shots and a colour palette to match. Where the film falls down, however, is a lack of catchiness in the songs (of a musical) and few overused writing devices smudge the dialogue a bit. Nevertheless, this is a film that deserves all the praise it has and will get and is a breath of fresh air in the modern cinemascape, even if it wasn’t completely up my straza.
Lots of hugs, kisses and lacerations
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