Once in a while a film is released that hits you in the gut with such force, clarity and truth that it leaves you almost shellshocked in the aftermath. Wordless. Which, as I’m sure you can imagine, is a bit of a problem when you have a review to write. La La Land is such a film as this.
We’re introduced to the Los Angeles of La La Land with an energetic musical number on a highway. Disgruntled motorists spring from their cars, singing and dancing across bonnets. This film is, after all, a musical but not necessarily always in this traditional sense. Sure the occupants of this film occasionally burst out into a song and dance but never before has music been so integral to the actual story. It’s the third protagonist in the film (the city of LA is the fourth) and it speaks through the journeys of Mia (Emma Stone) and Seb (Ryan Gosling).
Mia is an actress/barista caught up in a world of gluten free pastries, auditions and girls that are prettier versions of herself. Seb is a jazz pianist consigned to playing jingle bells in dimly lit restaurants, mere background noise for the people who no longer listen to Jazz. At first they go through the tried and tested tropes of boy meets girl. Despite this and despite its surrealism I’ve yet to see a love story told so honestly. The chemistry between Stone and Gosling is spot on, the ebb and flow of their interactions a perfectly choreographed dance, even when they aren’t.
The second half is much less a ‘Musical’ but it is certainly no less musical. It is here that the story properly kicks off, the true conflict coming when Seb starts to see a little success, yet Mia struggles with her own dreams. It’s during this portion of the film that Emma Stone truly elevates the character of Mia past the stereotypical spunky young heroine into something else entirely. As though a curtain is ripped away we see before us a character much more human than the faceless drones of Hollywood.
The pacing isn’t perfect and it can be a little gratuitous with its own themes but I struggled to mind too much when the rambling moments were shot so beautifully and surely led to moments of satisfying pay off. It may not be accidental though. Just as Whiplash was at the peak of intensity, La La Land takes a more relaxed approach that slowly invites you in. It’s seductive.
La La Land is an explosion of colour, soul and heart. A love letter to Hollywood. A wry look at the industry. A true telling of love.
And, just as soon as my heart can take it, a second viewing is in order.