Directed by Damien Chazelle Written by Damien Chazelle Starring Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, Rosemarie DeWitt & J. K. Simmons Film Review by Dean Pettipher
Not uncommonly do critics and the more casual masses of film fans especially find themselves clashing over their starkly contrasted feelings about how great or how ghastly a particular movie is. Moreover, one may rightly feel overwhelmed with scepticism rooted within the fear of a ridiculously overhyped film being inevitably tripped up by reality and consequently falling tragically flat into the vast ash-grey pits of bitter disappointment. La La Land (2016) is most certainly not one of those films. Instead, in short, Damien Chazelle’s flawless musical masterpiece is, without question, one of the best films of 2016. Indeed, with its theatrical release in the New Year, the movie may even become one of the finest pictures of 2017 for many audiences, even after one of the most spectacular Oscar season line-ups of all time, featuring a selection that includes gloriously glistening diamonds like Manchester by the Sea (2016), Lion (2016) and Hacksaw Ridge (2016). Many seemingly gold-tinted tales have been told by various movie critics attending multiple international film festivals. These stories have quickly spread around the world via social media into spaces within reach by audiences who spend their lives predominantly occupied by other professions but maintain within their hearts a genuine love for films as an adored hobby. Whether one cherishes the cinema within the deepest depths of one’s soul or just appreciates the occasional visit to the movie theatre for the sake of variety, as far as La La Land is concerned, the accounts will swiftly become both believable and justified for all who see it. To give but a teasingly little but luscious taste of such tales, one film critic attending the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF 2016) queued for five days to see the picture. Each day, except for the fifth and final one, he was turned away, since all of the seats in the cinema had already been filled. Similar lucky escapes and unexpected frustrations occurred at the 2016 BFI London Film Festival (LFF 2016), when an enormous bunch of critics, industry professionals, BFI members and people with the right contacts together formed the biggest line of the entire three-week press screening programme. Needless to say, many keen hearts were unpredictably angered and broken that day. Weep not, dear reader, for La La Land is a confident, colourful, vibrant, intelligent and mellifluous joy that is, for everyone, truly worth the anguish of waiting, just like the often sudden and uncontrollable but always unquestionably magical sensation that follows the discovery of a truly reciprocated romantic connection with another person.
Without meaning to cast a shadow upon the other sparkles of splendour making up the magnificent firework that the picture ultimately amounts to, at the forefront of the beautiful, unflinchingly authentic love story is the astonishing chemistry between the leading stars, Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, which, in truth, has yet to be rivalled by another onscreen coupling. First discovered and expertly capitalized upon in Crazy, Stupid, Love (2011) and then employed again as an essential ingredient for the ensemble period drama entitled Gangster Squad (2013), the infectious energy conjured by the enviably graceful coloration between these two artists lures enthusiastic audiences into a blissful suspension of disbelief. Within this space, audiences are propelled back and forth between various heightened states of emotion that are associated with romantic love especially, mainly intense delight and excruciating despair. Gosling and Stone arouse an abundance of addictive pleasure within observers beyond the forth wall as illustrations of the perfect romantic partners, since they are both at once admirably angelic and then wonderfully human in their fully fleshed out respective combinations of qualities and flaws. Thus, both Stone and Gosling succeed in leading fully-engrossed audiences throughout the picture because they prove to be as artistically gifted as they are aesthetically gorgeous.
The acting from the cast in its entirety is phenomenal; the supporting cast in particular played no small part in inspiring the audience attending the LFF 2016 press screening to clap with glee in the wake of just the opening scene. One mention, however, must be made for the fairly brief but no less memorable appearance from J. K. Simmons, whose comic wit and timing, best known from his previous work in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man Trilogy (2002-2007), shines acutely bright in his third collaboration with Chazelle. His role as an antagonistic force in La La Land does not carry the same level of significance within the plot that his Academy Award-winning part enjoyed in Whiplash (2014). Nonetheless, Simmons serves as yet another crucial reason to smile and bask in, within the sheer majesty of the musical.
La La Land succeeds because everything works. Everything fits together perfectly while also standing out wonderfully as individual assets, to the extent where audiences could not possibly pinpoint the one specific aspect that single-handedly allows the film to establish a remarkable position of definitive prowess within the overcrowded and fast-paced market of twenty-first century cinema. Such an impressive state of affairs occurs ever so rarely and principle examples of such films include Psycho (1960), The English Patient (1996), Gladiator (2000) and The Lord of the Rings Trilogy (2001-2003). Accordingly, La La Land joins the dance floor alongside films that serve as prime examples of their respective genres done right. Such movies manage to reach out to and connect with audiences who do not usually enjoy those particular genres at all. Chazelle’s directing evidently takes note of every last detail in every single shot. Chazelle’s writing is so sharp and sophisticated that it manages to achieve a breathtakingly captivating degree of universal emotional depth. The original soundtrack headed by Justin Hurwitz elegantly hits all of the right notes and consequently achieves the essential status of being compelling, catchy and memorable. The costumes helmed by Mary Zophres are flamboyant and stylish. Above all, the clothing employed in the movie illustrates how Emma Stone would look mesmerizingly stunning in anything. Whether she dances in bumblebee-yellow, jade-green, punch-pink, admiral-blue or daisy-white, Stone makes every dress appear as if she alone was born to wear it, even if they were in truth most likely weaved and fitted specifically for her use. In the end, explaining why La La Land penetrates the heart as well as it does feels akin to clarifying exactly why one has fallen in love with a particular person. There are at first many reasons that spring to mind. However, in the end, one ultimately does not really know why or how that person has managed to inspire such a uniquely extreme state of emotional intensity. Fortunately, whether the sensation is comprehensible or not, one is more often than not eternally grateful for its presence, however everlasting or fleeting it may prove to be in the future.
Few love stories, and even fewer musicals, have so perfectly balanced an indulgence in the fantastical and the hopelessly optimistic with the ostensibly cynical but ultimately essential injection of realism, like La La Land. As a romance, the film enchants audiences as well as any Shakespearean variation of the beloved genre ever could. As a musical, the production is more than worthy of standing upon both the cinematic and the theatrical stages with classics like West Side Story (1961), The Sound of Music (1965), Singing in the Rain (1952) and Mama Mia! (2008).The story has the potential to be a theatrical hit on Broadway, in the West End and beyond. In the meantime, If only one film featured at major film festivals like the TIFF 2016 and the LFF 2016 was seen, it must be La La Land. Indeed, if one only watched a single film during this present season, be it winter or summer, it must be La La Land. In fact, few would hold a grudge or feel the immobilizing strain of regret if La La Land was the only movie seen in a given year. Truly, even if one does not revel in musicals, he or she might still find it hard to deny that La La Land might just go on to become one of the next true classics in cinematic storytelling.