La La Land
Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone have been following a trajectory of the bona fide movie star duo. They invoked Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn in their own gender comedy Crazy, Stupid, Love., reworked Bogie and Bacall in LA noir Gangster Squad, and now, in what surely cements them as the most charismatic on-screen couple for generations, they embody Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Indeed, there is something spectacularly old-fashioned and nostalgic in this star power and their latest film, La La Land, is an enchanted dream of a musical.
If anyone wondered whether director Damien Chazelle’s previous movie Whiplash should be considered a musical, no such doubts will preoccupy the mind this time. This is a musical as our grandparents remember it: classical, romantic, optimistic, colourful, star-driven. The genre’s atrophy has been self-evident since the demise of Hollywood’s “Golden Age”, but Chazelle, who clearly adores the style, has sought to save it for contemporary viewers. As such, the two central characters perform as alter-egos for the director: Seb (Ryan Gosling) is a pianist and jazz aficionado who bemoans his arts’ decline, while Mia (Emma Stone) is an aspiring actress brought up on classical Hollywood, undergoing countless humiliating auditions in order to become the next Ingrid Bergman. They both dream of success within industries that seem to thrive only in their minds, and it is their shared passion for anachronistic expression that sparks their genuinely romantic voyage.
As expected of the genre, its portrayal of LA is insular and utopian, the entire setup of the film establishing an exquisitely constructed tableau vivant: performative, fantastical and beautiful in every manner. But where traditional musicals offered phoney, artificial emotional resolutions charged with conservative ideology, La La Land achieves resonant emotional realism that enthrals the audience and has them weeping tears.
We can talk about the obvious Oscar-bait (the Academy adores Hollywood movies in love with their own history, à la The Artist), or about nostalgia’s damaging effect and the myths reasserted that we have finally moved on from, or even bemoan, the re-appropriation of French auteur Jacques Demy. But it’s difficult to be cynical of a feature as joyous, funny and effervescent as La La Land. When Mia is inspired to write a play she says, “It’s way too nostalgic”. Seb replies, “that’s the point”. Clearly engaging with itself on a meta-level, this self-reflexive irony is symbolic for a film as unashamed as this.
The director has crafted a musical ode to the City of Angels and all of the dreamers out there struggling to make a living within the confines of their passion and in the face of pandemic cynicism. This is a movie everyone can watch and everyone should watch, made for dreamers and romantics struggling with love and life in a world desperately in need of a bit of dancing. Chazelle wanted to save the musical and he may just have done that.
La La Land is released nationwide on 13th January 2017.
Watch the trailer for La La Land here: