The glitz and the glamour of classic Hollywood was somewhat lost after the 1950’s, the collapse of big name studios and single studio contracts made way for a fresher, yet more modernised view on cinema. That is until La La Land made an appearance.
Directed by Damien Chazelle, the mastermind behind Whiplash (2014) La La Land is the tale of aspiring actress Mia (Emma Stone) and Jazz Musician Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) the special thing about this film is the way it’s filmed, there are evident nods to classic Hollywood productions. In particular there is a car montage near the opening of the film, where an overlay of lit up signs is very clearly reminiscent of Double Indemnity (1944). Anyone that is aware of Rebel without a Cause (1955) will love the mimicking scenes of the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles, this is the setting where Mia and Sebastian dance, and I don’t want to give anything away, but it seriously works, the shots and the lighting really work. All this might make the film feel as if it’s trying too hard, but weren’t classic Hollywood musicals all trying too hard?
Musicals in the last ten years have given us everything from Moulin Rouge (2001) to Frozen (2013) we have been lucky enough to not let musicals die out, after Singing in the rain (1952) and High Society (1956). Yet the problem with cinema is too many people make films for the success they are going to have and the profits and awards they are going to win. Which don’t get me wrong is important stuff, there just doesn’t seem to be the specialty of shooting a film on a set with a live orchestra and a hundred extras dancing along with Gene Kelly any more. La La Land has bought that back, the music written by Justin Hurwitz does more than make you tap your feet, it makes you want to dance. Every song in the film is perfect, they are all wonderfully created with the script in mind. The films main theme ‘city of stars’ is played by Sebastian on the piano as a melody to Mia, listening to it makes it seem like it’s a simple tune when in fact it’s simple because it’s an overpowering tune that few people now would listen too if they had the chance. I can only suggest listening to the score before you watch the film, it gives you an extra connection to the film that musicals seem to allow.
“Presented in cinemascope” is the cleaver little nod to its all singing all dancing opening scene with a fantastic song and somewhat confusing but great dance on an LA highway. The combination of the classic feel with a modern twist gives way to such an exciting audience reaction, its daringly exciting. This is where we first meet Mia and Sebastian, they are two angry strangers stuck in typical highway gridlock. The initial performance they give is subtle but cleaver, you’ll understand this by the way they meet, it’s a reference to how many old Hollywood ‘couples’ used to meet in features. Mia and Sebastian are no Ginger and Fred, they’re like their awkward counterparts in an alternate universe where only they exist. But on another note, the acting can’t faulted. They are refreshingly in time and partially scatty. The film has a young but old feeling to it, the director Damian gives it a fresh feeling with his take on it, while the shots are nostalgic of the 1950’s. The fact that it’s been filmed on cinemascope, last used in 1967, for wide screen productions, makes this film even more magical and complete. The story of La La Land is one that’s been done a thousand times, that’s perhaps what makes it so special because even though you expect what is going to happen, you don’t quite realise the extent of the conclusion until you walk out with a tear in your eye. In a way La La Land challenges the stereotypes of musicals. It’s as much made now as it’s made in the 1950’s, it embraces studios like MGM and original camera work to give a grainy and perfected feel to it.
I find it very hard to give a bad review of La La Land, it’s perfect in every way a modern day musical can be. As much as I wish I could gush about the ending of the film, I know I can’t. It must be watch to understand it, and trust me you really can understand it if you try. If I could give La La Land ten stars I would, I really hope it does well with the upcoming awards, it’s a spectacle that can’t and shouldn’t be missed.