Director: Damien Chazelle
Writer: Damien Chazelle
Verdict: A Joy
Y’know just before going into this movie I was like “I had a load of horror films in my top list for 2016, wouldn’t it be funny if La La Land was my favourite of the year for 2017?”. I mean all the peices were in place, I loved Chazelle’s last film Whiplash, (my dad said, ‘a film about a jazz drummer, what was the point?’ would it be too obvious to say that’s kind of missing the point of it?), Ryan Gosling is one of my favourite actors working at the moment and I’ve always felt Emma Stone, (The Help, Easy A, Birdman) has had the potential to do great things, and I’ve been looking for a really great musical to fall in love with. I will say though, I saw this on the 8th at a preview screening, (I know how luxurious, little old me), 8 days into the year and I feel it’s pretty safe to say this might well be my favourite film of 2017. Then again I havn’t seen 20th Century Women, yet which just seems geared towards me.
La La Land is, at it’s core, a fairly standard romance, it’s essentially a twist on Singin’ in the Rain only, better, and less sexist. A lonesome jazz pianist meets a struggling actress and at first they hate eachother but, y’know what, very quickly the ice begins to melt. The premise may be conventional but how the story unfolds from then on is not, and the plot is really just an excuse to have dazzling set peices and musical numbers.
Not since I think Mad Max: Fury Road have I seen a film as dedicated to purely entertainng you as this one. It begins with one of the best cinematic traffic jams since Sicario, and one of a very different sort. Instead becomming one of the tensest shootouts I’ve seen for quite some time, it turns into one of the most dazzling, colourful, and best choreographed dance routines I’ve seen for quite some time. It’s all filmed in long takes to sell the routines, and the routines are great. No one fucks up, it’s all synchronised and just looks dazzling. The cinematography on display is truly astounding. It was done by Linus Sandgren, who most recently did Joy, which I recently reviewed, (here), and the cinematography was actually probably the best thing about that film. Actually to hear him talk about the difference in approach for those two films is very intersting.
The performances are lovely. Who knew how funny Ryan Gosling was? He’s turning into a proper Ryan Goose, but I feel like that joke’s been done to death at much earlier stages of his career but there aren’t many adult gosling puns you can make. He’s had three movies out in last year and this year; this film, The Nice Guys, and The Big Short. This role combines the wit of The Big Short, which was actually the film that made me stop and go ‘wow Ryan Gosling knows exactly how to do comedy on a technical level well done him’; with the physical comedy of The Nice Guys; with the melancholia of Drive. There’s a face that Ryan Gosling does at the end of that iconic lift scene in Drive of just utter sadness and longing and regret and it’s a great face, and he’s really good at it, and he does it a lot in this film. He is really, really good, and he sings and dances and plays the piano and it’s lovely. Emma Stone I have never before seen at this level of good. She has a way of talking that makes it sound like it’s coming out of an actual person. She looks like she’s improvising in the sense that it doesn’t look like she’s saying lines that she’s rehearsed, she looks like someone having a conversation in real life. She is such an individual screen presence that it’s almost incongruous but I’m really glad she’s there because I love that manner of acting and I wish more people were doing it.
If I was to nitpick I would say that it is a bit contrived, there’s one particular scene where Ryan Gosling makes a point about Emma Stone’s heels so she immediately gets tap shoes out of her bag and you go ‘oh right it’s this kind of musical’ but that’s not really representative of the rest of the film because in general, La La Land does make an effort to seem natural. Chazelle has talked in interviews about wanting to make it feel like you were ‘falling into’ the songs and for the most part I think he manages it.
If you go out onto the street and ask people to name a director, they’ll probably say, Steven Spielburg, (Saving Private Ryan, Schindler’s List, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial), Stanely Kubrick, (The Shining, A Clockwork Orange, 2001: A Space Odyssey), Martin Scorcese, (Goodfellas, The Wolf of Wall Street), maybe George Lucas, (Star Wars), and probably Micheael Bay, (Transformers). If Damien Chazelle keeps this up, this already quite extraordinary winning streak after only two big films and co-writing credits on 10 Cloverfield Lane, he might well join that linneage. You see the poster and it’s incredible that any film could get that many five star reviews and they wouldn’t have to scrape the bottom of the barrel of publications to get them. I tell you now, if I did stars, they could have included me. It’s wonderful!