Ah, remember 'Whiplash'? It was pretty spectacular, but landed at the exact time of 'Birdman' - which also dealt with a particular brand of New York showmanship. Of course, this engineered nothing short of all out war between the two, with audiences cast as the fraught middle-man. To my mind, Inarritu's film was far superior - using its cinematography and cannily chosen actors to meta-out the situation; as well as providing the more imaginative, powerful, and distinctive piece (if not necessarily the most emotional). How strange, then, to find that for his next film, Chazelle had A) not only casted one of the leads of 'Birdman' (Emma Stone), but also B) aped the 'single-take' style for a lot of his shots. Hell, he's even quoting the movie as a source of ideas; perhaps the micro-war had provided some alternative inspiration.
|Ah, a cinema. How meta....|
We open on a bustling freeway: horns honking, windows open; radios duelling with their programming as if creatures in battle. An interesting metaphor given the film's frequent comment on genre-relations. Suddenly, inexplicably, one driver bursts into song – quickly followed by some one hundred (or more) others. Chazelle’s lens dances around these performers, never stopping to blink or to disrupt the organic flow. For those viewers who tend to stoop towards cynicism (myself included), this may seem a little grating. After all, there’s a reason why cinematic tastes have swerved from endless optimism towards a certain type of heartless nihilism. Yet, like it or loathe it, it’s a tonal watermark for the rest of 'La La Land'. If you give into it and go with the flow, you’re sure to have a much better time.
Gosling's Seb is a disillusioned, somewhat antisocial, and obsessive jazz musician - with unfulfilled dreams of opening his own club (seemingly to safeguard the medium). As expected, he's the perfect fit for the role: charismatic, enigmatic, and evocative of a certain Hollywood je ne sais quoi that fits like a lost jigsaw piece into Chazelle's narrative. At times, he approaches the depths that he reached in Refn's 'Drive' and 'Only God Forgives' - with a haunting stare that construes emotion quite unlike anyone else working in the industry today. Working in a dead-end job at a cheap bar; Seb prefers to listen and play free-jazz (as much as his boss JK Simmons would prefer Christmas muzak); but seems trapped in a cycle of poverty and cheap 80's cover bands. His true struggle isn't really to get by, but in making the choice over whether to pursue his risky dream, or go with his friend's (John Legend playing himself) tacky but incredibly popular pop-soul outfit.
|No, this image is not doctored.|
Two dreamers, drifting through the smog and chaos of LA life. Living in the artificial environments of studios and piano bars: to all extents, perfect for each other.
|Ah, young love.|
In any case, suffice to say, this movie is nigh on perfect. The lead performances are spot on; the color palate is exciting and primary (a dance scene set over a sunset is particularly memorable); and the narrative wraps itself up into a neat little gift, that is promptly ripped open to reveal a great den of cinematic and aural delights in the final five minutes. For those of you who have viewed the trailer, all of the experimentation with film stock, ageing, and colouring technique occurs in these final moments - and it seems a perfect digestif to an exemplary experience that was filled with incredible cinematography (symmetry and luxurious wide shots abound) anyway.
Of course, aside from the jazz which we already knew he could do, Chazelle really had his work cut out in trying to pay tribute to the medium of film - with the picture set in LA and focusing on a wannabe actress. And, I have to say, from the style of the credits, to the use of locations such as those from 'Casablanca' and 'Rebel Without a Cause', to the old-fashioned mannerisms, he does a really damn good job. And, I guess, that's the thing that makes it a shoe-in for the Oscar. The drifting sunsets stand out clear, as if in poster-technicolor, as the natural neon rebounds from the players faces, splashing into the lens and rebounding in rainbow flares across the screen. What we're witnessing here is nothing short of magic: akin to those audiences who sat and marveled at color 'talkies' as a kitsch novelty. Except, this time, we look backwards as Orpheus did, rather than forwards towards a bright future.
By the time the credits roll, things haven't necessarily turned out the way that we had hoped, or expected, but there's a tangible sense of optimism in the air: beckoning you through the theater doors and into the moonlight with a spring in your step. At the start of 2017, after a long, hard year, 'La La Land' provides that exact dose of optimism and escapism that audiences are craving. It's two whole hours of spine chills and cathartic pleasure. Sure, shit happens, but life is beautiful beyond imagination. I didn't know whether to clap or cry.
|'La La Land' gets 5 stars!|