La La Land is receiving huge amounts of hype everywhere you look – with universal critical acclaim, being praised as one of the best films of 2016, and winning a record-breaking seven Golden Globe awards. If you’re hearing all the hype but not quite sure what it’s about: Emma Stone plays an aspiring actress in Los Angeles. Ryan Gosling plays an aspiring musician. The two of them fall in love and try to make their dreams a reality. Oh, and it’s a musical.
Written and directed by Damien Chazelle (who also made 2014’s Whiplash), La La Land is genuinely so much fun to watch. There’s colour everywhere, there’s dancing everywhere, and you’re left wondering ‘WHY ISN’T MY LIFE A MUSICAL GOD DAMN IT?’ The film opens on a traffic jam in Los Angeles, which promptly turns into a huge musical number with people dancing on their cars and singing in the street. It’s energetic and infectious, and it’s a shame that this energy doesn’t quite carry through to every song in the film.
In fact, only the first two songs feel particularly up beat. That’s not to say the rest of the songs aren’t good, they’re just never as grand. It feels like La La Land gets its most energetic song out of the way first and then quickly focuses on more emotional songs for character development. Because of this there are some missed opportunities to have more fun – for example, a date scene on the Warner Bros studio lot provided the perfect excuse for a fantastic musical number using lots of different film sets.
I did want one last big song, but the shift in tone during the second half of the film is satisfying in its own way, and I can always YouTube that opening number 50+ times to satisfy my show-tune cravings anyways.
Emma Stone is all kinds of excellent throughout the film and definitely steals the spotlight, giving a great comedic performance alongside some of her best dramatic scenes (Her song The Fools Who Dream is incredible). Ryan Gosling is great too – I mean, he’s playing a piano and being charming and dancing and I want to marry him, is what I’m trying to say. There are, of course, other actors in La La Land, including John Legend and Rosemarie DeWitt, but the whole film is so focused on showcasing Stone and Gosling and gives them such a compelling storyline that any other characters just fall into the background.
I never got that feeling of sitting in the theatre and waiting for the film to end, and truth be told I already kind of want to go and see it again. The dancing is just brilliant and left more of an impression on me than the singing – La La Land is very much a visual film and seeing it on the big screen is going to be infinitely better than waiting for it to come out on DVD.
The film isn’t quite as optimistic after the opening number as some other reviews/trailers make it seem, but it’s certainly colourful, fun and catchy and has a great ending that leaves nothing ambiguous. Go see it if you’re a fan of musicals, Hollywood culture, or Stone/Gosling as it’s some of their best work. Avoid it if you’re not normally a fan of musicals (it won’t change your mind), or think you’ll cringe at en masse dancing. It’s pure romance and drama and singing and jazz, now excuse me while I go and download the soundtrack. Check out a trailer for La La Land here: