La La Land review: a sun-kissed, endorphin-fuelled tribute to those who dream

  • La La Land (2016)

A sun-kissed tribute to the gold age of film sparkling with happiness is a cross-over between the classic cinema and the modern side of the industry. Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling are only proving how talented and versatile they are in a moving story that is, first and foremost, an homage to the passion that fills your life and makes it something that gets you out of bed every morning.

la la land review

Mia, an aspiring actress, and Sebastian, a jazz pianist, keep on bumping into each other – but the first time they actually start talking, the band he’s with covers A-HA!, and she playfully places a song request to tease his “serious artist” ego a bit. Soon, they begin to form an unusual bond – based as much on attraction as on mutual support on a way to The Dream. Although it has different definitions for them, they both believe they’re going to make it – but only to introduce a story of sacrifices, changes, and the winding roads that lead you to what you truly want.

The film director Damien Chazelle seems to like making the stories about people who love jazz – only to mention critically acclaimed Whiplash or Grand Piano. And he’s also awfully accomplished at dissecting personalities of artists – his characters are ambitious, with a big dream of becoming the best of the best. La La Land uses the formula which he’s perfected over the years – and gives it the vigour and colour of a musical with strong ties to the Golden Age of Hollywood. There are two young people who try to make it in arts, in a saturated and competitive industry built on ashes of those who wanted their face up on the big screen – and meanwhile, they wait tables and play popular tunes to people in restaurants. Many of the viewers would relate to them, seeing the struggle as something that they’re trying to overcome, striving for their passion every day. However, it’s not gritty and depressing as that battle for the dreams can be – it’s full of sunlight, intense shades and positivity instead. Acknowledging and reminiscing the classic musicals of the past, it also keeps it current with settings, situations, items, and a blow of fresh air with contemporary celebrity life  – it’s a well-balanced, tasteful mix of retro and modern.

Exploring what it takes to live your dream, the script muses on a few things. Sometimes it gets tough when you’re a creative, and arts don’t pay, as many stubborn kids have been told before they got away to a bigger place to hold onto their aspirations. Sebastian’s table is full of envelopes with “past due” stamps on them, and Mia sneaks out to auditions from the café she works in to perform where self-important industry people are often preoccupied with themselves – but they both believe that the lucky break is just days away. It’s also the story of making a compromise while following what makes you tick which highlights the turns that life keeps up its sleeve to influence our choices. Full of youthful passion, dreams that keep you awake at night and make you hustle throughout the day, and magnetic energy that swings the characters between the good and the bad days, it’s an electric portrayal of failures that build you up on your way to success. It’s also about keeping up with your aspirations and making tough choices when there is someone important in your life – and what happens when the paths written in the stars don’t align anymore.

Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone were paired on the big screen for Gangster Squad and Crazy Stupid Love before – and their fascinating chemistry sits at the heart of the story. It’s crazy to think now that Damien Chazelle considered casting Emma Watson and Miles Teller as the main characters, because Gosling and Stone slip into the roles of Mia and Seb instantly. Doing very well as dancers or singers (although you do hear a bit of the difference between the songs co-performed with the different characters… oh hi, John Legend), they are also creating interesting, mesmerising characters with full-bodied personalities, portraying deeply running emotions and difficult life choices. They are channelling what you’d call a movie star back in the twenties or thirties: charming, charismatic, becoming whoever they want to become on the silver screen.

The music here plays a much bigger role than just providing a form of expression for the main character or an opportunity to insert a dance scene every twenty minutes, as it is for some modern musicals. From the opening scene, it helps the story unfold with a phenomenal score. Another Day of Sun welcomes us to Los Angeles and invites us to the city that’s made of the stories of those who did it and of those who tried, initially setting the atmosphere with its grand dance show. Even if you hate musicals, it instantly removes all the seeds of cynicism and sarcasm from your head – and you put on the rose-tinted spectacles waiting for the story to progress. Later, the soundtrack assists the story gently and cheerfully, delivering an emotional punch where it needs to: City of Stars and Audition (The Fools Who Dream) have big chances of becoming instant classics for our generation.

What’s so beautiful about the way the film has been made is the immersive colour that pops at you every single minute. The long shots of the choreography, where the camera follows the characters on the screen to pay uninterrupted attention to the movement, are also alluring. There are no sudden perspective switches, and the lens is kept on the most important characters – who take us by hand, turn as around and tap-dance through the story, never missing a beat.

La La Land is one of these optimism-fuelled films that come around once in a while. If there was a cinematic definition for “sunshine”, this film would be one. It’s a sun-kissed, star-gazing tribute to the film industry heritage which is contagiously full of endorphins – and sharing particles of sparkling LA life in such an infectious manner that when the lights are up again, your legs will follow the rhythm to wherever you’re heading to.

The film opens in the UK this Thursday, 12th of January 2016. You can catch it before in a few Central London cinemas: Picturehouse Central, Odeon Covent Garden and Cineworld Haymarket.

Kasia Kwasniewska

Editor in Chief

Passionate about far too many things. Loves reading, watching films, eyeing (and producing) good design, listening to music and stuffing her face with chocolate on a daily basis. Cooks from time to time, and drinks far too much coffee to be a normal human being. Liked my work? Buy me a coffee!