La La Land: A review
La La Land has recently won 7 awards at the Golden Globes, breaking the record for most wins by a film in a single ceremony. The diversity of the awards it has won at the Globes (if you take awards seriously, which can be a bit of a personal choice) suggests its strong on a number of fronts. By winning Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay as well as both lead awards for acting and the awards for score and song, it is reasonable to assume there’s quality in every aspect of the film. And this would be correct.
It’s Damien Chazelle’s third film and once again has jazz as one of its central themes. I would love to say that music is the driving force behind this film but because the script and acting is so strong, it’s hard to really make that case. But make no mistake, the songs (it is a musical, after all) and the score play a tremendous part in setting up the world of the film.
The film is a musical romantic comedy and it’s extremely rare in the sense that it’s a quality film that can still be tagged as a romantic comedy. But despite the musical numbers and the sun drenched, colour saturated palate of the film, it isn’t at all about the sunny fantasy world of showbiz. The script takes on the gritty reality of the world of artists and the struggles with authenticity in such a career. Since the film is a romantic one, the centre of the film is about the effects of an artistic career on the protagonists. This is a well-trodden theme of films and literature (even Chazelle’s last film, Whiplash, has the protagonist choose between a relationship or focusing on his music) and so has the potential to feel stale. But it isn’t at all because we’re heavily invested in these characters.
And the reason we care about the characters is because of the quality of acting. Emma Stone is excellent in this film. She’s generally been in quite good films but this time it’s a strong lead performance and not a supporting one. I don’t remember her being in films that required a lot of choreography, so it’s definitely great to see how much she gets into the dance moves needed for this film. Gosling is also quite good in the film, especially on the emotional scenes although you can usually see him focusing on the coordination for the choreography more than getting into it. But it’s a minor point.
The strength of the film from a thematic point is how much it manages to balance drama and comedy. There’s been more serious and challenging films this year (Moonlight, Elle) and also more fun ones (Deadpool, Sing Street) but nothing else really comes close to this film for giving you the mix of an old-style Hollywood full of singing and dancing like you’d expect Fred Astaire in mixed with the kind of realism you’d expect from serious studies of relationships (Asghar Farhadi and Michael Haneke’s films come to mind).
The movie is a joy to watch from the opening scene (easily the best opening scene Inglorious Basterds or Antichrist) to the closing one (also a great musical number). You can pick any reason to watch it from the script to the acting to music and you’d be justified in doing so. While, I’m slightly tired of the white saviour narrative in films and especially tired of “jazz is dead. Can we save jazz?” refrain, it doesn’t hamper the film at all or take away enjoyment.
Easily one of the best movies of the year. Possibly only bettered by Elle or Zootopia. An excellent take on relationships and struggling for art with both enough pathos and verve to make the movie live long in the memory.