Director: Damien Chazelle
Stars: Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, John Legend
Damien Whiplash Chazelle loves jazz and you should too. That’s the long and the short of it, and if pushing us through his aforementioned white-knuckle hyper-drama hadn’t changed our minds then this time he’s turning on the charm. Switching up (considerably), he now presents us… an old-fashioned Hollywood musical. About a jazz man. Who loves jazz.
It’s not just about Ryan Gosling’s jazz man, Sebastian. There’s Emma Stone’s wannabe-actress Mia, too. But, as if evident of the swelling ego behind the camera – this contemptibly young wunderkid director – Sebastian’s dreams are treated a mite more seriously. Picture, for instance, the charming moment when Mia admits that she hasn’t much of a taste for the art form, so dear Sebastian is compelled to mansplain to her why she’s wrong in her opinion. Oh, it’s just darling!
This review has started out a little hammy, a little tongue-in-cheek, a little cocksure, as if I’m accelerating in tempo in order to tell you just why La La Land isn’t the Hollywood-saving good-ol’-fashioned feel-good-hit-of-forever that you’ve been promised it is. That you want it to be, right? I mean, damn it, we’ve all had a bit of a shitter lately, agreed? And the studios dropped Martin Scorsese’s Silence on us as a New Year’s present? I mean, it’s good but jeez, where’s the light relief? The celebration? And tempting as it always is to feather my own ego while lambasting someone else’s, I’m not about to write you a review that ditches La La Land in the drink. It is a good little movie. But a good little movie is all it is.
So, I started out not loving it, really. The opening musical number is a camera-whirling dazzler, sure, but once it was over I couldn’t quite say whether it had set a tone or just winked knowingly at one. Take-turn introductions for Gosling and Stone did little to settle the bet, so I resolved to putting my writer’s cap away. I’d just let the movie do it’s thing; if this was to be confectionary cinema, let it sweeten me.
And yeah, I found things to pick fault with. While Gosling and Stone are ostensibly co-leads, Chazelle tends to take Sebastian more seriously than he does Mia (Can we see some of Mia’s acting? What’s her one-woman-show about? No, really…). They’re not Broadway singers, which is just as well as the original songs in La La Land are not all that great or catchy, and honestly isn’t this all just sugar-paper-thin dreaminess? La la la la…
Of course it is.
That’s the goddamn point. And as soon as I decided to stop whining to myself about the shortcomings of the film and just enjoy the spectacle of it, I found there was a lot to love here.
I love that it’s shot on film. It’s a bit grainy. It almost invites the cinema-going audience member to step out of the film and take in the experience of seeing it on a cinema screen; in the dark with the glow of the image outlining the heads of the other patrons (I actually enjoyed doing this a lot, self-consciously making memories of watching this movie).
I love the nostalgia; it’s brazen, so go with it, the way we did all that trashy nu-grindhouse shit a decade ago, the way we did last year with Stranger Things – it’s the same thing; new product constructed from the ashes of the old. Only prettier this time. The colours are redolent of Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly pictures and that’s no bad thing. In keeping with that are the costumes too, which tour Gosling and particularly Stone through the colours of the rainbow (Mary Zophres, if anyone’s getting some statues this season, it’s you). The aura of frivolity surrounding La La Land is it’s best recourse for defending itself. It’s just a silly movie, dummy! So enjoy it!
Gosling is charming. Stone is too. They have chemistry. They dance more than they sing, but they play straight scenes off of one another more than they do both. But when it comes to those set pieces, Chazelle delivers. Sometimes just enough, sometimes a little more (he has a flair for a finale). The film merrily takes you on a tour of the seasons in Hollywood, where it’s summer all year round. Things get gloomy in fall, obviously (it’s fall, dummy), but there’s music and romance in the air, so who you foolin’? And the ending is bittersweet, which by and large is the way I like ’em. There are enough little moments to inspire some giddiness so that exiting the theatre you feel pretty gosh-darned okay about it all, huh? Darn tootin’!
…But put that writer’s hat back on and it’s all just a silly little movie. All just sugar-paper and stardust. And Mia’s a little underwritten, and Sebastian’s another would-be white saviour of black music (except he just wants to open up a club, so he’s not really a saviour of anything so that’s fine). La La Land is absolutely positively a movie about being in the moment (oh and about following your dreams). About not thinking about it. About not digging deeper (except when you’re trying to follow your dreams). Because like the Hollywood it is ardently in love with, there’s nothing behind the glossy exterior (follow your dreams). The exterior’s just a curtain, blowing in a balmy breeze. It’s just dressing. It’s just pretend. It doesn’t matter. Nothing matters here! (dreams). Slip on something nice. Go dancing in the street. BUY JAZZ RECORDS AND GO TO JAZZ CLUBS and live your life a little like it’s a Hollywood musical, just for a short while.
But buy jazz records and go to jazz clubs.
Seriously, he’s gonna keep on about this otherwise.