You know it’s a good movie when you’re still humming the soundtrack the next day. You know it’s a great movie when you can’t wait to see it again.
La La Land is that rare film that not only lives up to the hype but dramatically exceeds expectations. Something not possible but for Hamilton and the likes of Hail, Caesar! and Director Damien Chazelle’s own Whiplash, the musical’s recent upswing in popularity, championed here by third-time collaborators Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, is with La La Land no more a rarity or passing fancy in today’s Hollywood, now occupying prime of place with its boxing day release.
Anyone already enamoured with A Chorus Line, 42nd Street or any number of halcyonic musicals won’t find La La Land’s terrain too unfamiliar. Boy meets girl, girl attends auditions, tries to make it as an actress; boy’s a musician, loves old movies, can’t get enough of jazz. Stone and Gosling’s chemistry, having built up a repartee over multiple projects, is in equal parts beguiling and effortless, whether it be Stone egging the pianist on at a garden party or joyfully sharing a tap-dance with her talented counterpart.
There’s nothing too unpredictable here, with one song, for the keen listener, going so far as to elaborate on almost the entire story, but that’s the point. You’re watching to have fun, it’s about spectacle, and a spectacle it is. The opening tune, one of a number with the makings of classic, set on a jammed freeway as motorists leap from their cars, will have you wide-eyed as so many MGM hits transfixed audiences in decades past, except that La La Land is vividly, and unapologetically, now.
There are many moments when Gosling moves as to grab hold of a lamp post, or burst into a dance routine a la An American in Paris, but he doesn’t quite get there, with Chazelle relying not on nostalgia but a vibrant original score and choreography from Mandy Moore, replete with a very modern sheen and lyricism, to deliver something that is unmistakeably today. Certainly the old-style musical fans know and love, with glittering backdrops, dimmed lights and ever so colourful costumes, it’s something that present audiences can emphatically relate to, keeping the dream alive for all those who thought the genre a relic.
With Stone the more consummate singer, its nonetheless Gosling who commands the most memorable scenes, crooning as he thrillingly moves his way up and down the piano. Their interplay contagious, anyone happy to be taken for a ride by La La Land could easily see themselves mirrored in the minor characters on screen visibly having a great time, among them J.K. Simmons in a small cameo who is happy just to bob along to the music with the rest of us.
An exemplary exercise in showmanship in every sense of the word, La La Land may be the first distinctly Hollywood musical in a while but it won’t be the last.
La La Land is in cinemas from Boxing Day