LFF 2016: Dancing through the stars with La La Land

 La La Land is a film that shouldn’t exist. Ingenious in its conception and practically flawless in its execution, it combines every winning element from the most beloved musicals in order to come out as its own.
A struggling jazz pianist (Ryan Gosling) and aspiring actress (Emma Stone) meet by chance in a rose-tinted city of Angels, establishing the starting point for an original modern day musical and proving that love is made for movie screens. Taking the best of the past and the most promising of the present, the LFF favourite is all anyone can talk about here – and it’s not even hitting cinemas anywhere else for another three months.

An open love letter to L.A and to the classical Hollywood romantic musical, it marks the return of the sensational Damien Chazelle along with a few of his collaborators from Whiplash, including loyal composer Justin Hurwitz and favourite editor, Tom Cross.

A film so different in its subject matter to its predecessor, La La Land somehow feels so recognizable as Chazelle’s already – despite it only being the director’s second feature. The film displays the same sharp attention to aesthetic and pacing, keeping viewers locked in for as long as it takes for Chazelle to lay his heart bare on screen.
Concerns arose in the lead up to the film as the hype was so very real; can you really make a modern day musical seriously? Amidst widespread mockumentaries and self-aware satire, there seems to be little room for new, true and unadulterated cinematic pleasure onscreen at the top of today’s box office. But when push came to shove, it was a no-brainer. How could La La Land have ever been doubted?
Everything about it pleases, inspires and loves viewers in turn. From the start, the film makes no apologies and fully strives from its nostalgically stylized identity. In an interview with Variety, Chazelle confirms ‘if you’re going to do a full-fledged musical today, you’ve got to announce it from the get-go’.
At first, you search for the irony as hundreds of drivers leave their cars to break out in dance on the motorway under the winter L.A sun, in a West Side Story inspired opening sequence. But to get the most out of La La Land, cynicism should be left at the door. Enjoy the pitch-perfect, toe-tapping and optimistic musical set-up – you’ll soon be dancing in the stars and wonder why you hadn’t dared sooner.
The heavy influences from Hollywood’s golden age give the film a great head start, providing the perfect moodboard of pigmented primary colours and rich textured detail for any sartorial aficionado’s delight – which the modern viewer really has to see to believe. As well as its dreamlike dollhouse aesthetic, it is the emotional motivations which drive La La Land and make the story so attractive.
Incredibly slick and zealous dance numbers are interspersed with scenes of almost too good to be true chemistry from the winning pair, Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone. It comes as no surprise that the two leads, not exactly strangers to on-screen romance, encapsulate beautifully the romance of a past era and the consciousness of a more weighted present. Their love affair is believable in its innocence while their dreams are grounded in reality, reaching out to a tangible relatability for everyone.  
However, La La Land could have run the risk of being too clever for its own good. In the hands of a less skilled company, we would be stuck in a stiff and cheap remake of the past. Admittedly a passion project for the creative team, the film is indulgent in its delivery and devoted to its themes. But thankfully, it pays off.
In the brief Q&A following the screening on Leicester Square, Chazelle emphasized the importance of time as a core theme in the film: acknowledging it, yearning for it, and being between it.
La La Land celebrates the gaps and the overlaps between dreams and reality, art and love, work and pleasure. Despite its age-old Hollywood fairytale premise, it has an understanding of modern lives and emotions. After all, if we’re still watching Casablanca, Singin’ in the Rain, and West Side Story today, it must mean that some things live on, right?
Inventive storytelling etched in the past feeds into the present and salutes the future throughout the film. In a sequence which waves the end of the film, super-8 footage of Mia and Sebastian’s own reality plays over the film’s musical motif – a simple melody soaked in Ryan Gosling’s talent that will soothe any knot. Not only does this treat viewers to a more condensed display of the delicious onscreen romance, but it truly testifies the great intelligence that runs through La La Land.
The film respects and honours its inspirations while showing the charm that can be found in our lives today. La La Land is confident in its worth, but for good reason. Dream a little more, dance a little longer and love a little stronger – and then watch it all over again.
Originally published on Epigram

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