(Dear Reader, todays post comes as a brand new guest piece from a brand new guest contributor. Please enjoy his review of the new release, La La Land (Dir. Damien Chazelle, 2016). In the meantime, expect more talking about films coming your way soon, and please follow us on twitter: @filmpravda – Alex)
There’s always that one film every year that is purely hyperbole and exaggeration. The film receiving standing ovations at every festival, nominated for all the awards, adored by every critic, praised from every possible angle. Movies that are apologetically artsy or old-fashioned are eaten up by that crowd, especially if it’s anything to do with golden age Hollywood of the 1940s and 1950s. The Artist (Dir. Michel Hazanavicius, 2011) was one, and now, it’s La La Land.
Except La La Land isn’t hyperbole or exaggeration. There are so many layers of excellence in this perfect meld of new-school filmmaking with classic ideas, it completely earns all the accolades that’ll shower down over the next few months.
Like the most timeless tales, the heart of it is nothing new. It’s a story of boy meets girl, yet their journey is a carefully constructed sidestep of clichés. Paths collide in the exact opposite ways to what you expect, hinting at an obvious next direction before spinning in the other. Personalities are flipped, roles are switched. An actor and actress chase dreams – not each other – in the place where they’re legendarily made, they just happen to meet at the right times and encourage each other down their respective paths. The striking landmark sights of Los Angeles surrounding them are made even better by the full Technicolor cinematography, images of famous stars and other clever references from days long gone, lingering in the backdrop. It might be showing a new romance, but its foundations lay from many a decade ago, Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone adorned in sharp, colourful outfits straight out of that era. Old contrasts with new.
The opening freeway dance number alone dazzles. Damien Chazelle effortlessly sweeps from character-focused drama to grand Broadway show-stoppers, the hectic energy of Scorcese one minute and the quiet intensity of Coppola the next. The film is big when it wants to be and small when it needs to be. The songs meld perfectly with the everyday, never outstaying their welcome, never outweighing the conversations, always kicking in to support emotional climaxes, and it’s all shown to the audience with such modern storytelling flair that you can’t helped be whisked away. When Seb passionately explains the appeal of jazz to Mia, you learn about the history of jazz right alongside her. They’re both very different, believable characters, appealing in their own ways. One scene has Emma delivering a stunning, Oscar-worthy monologue phone call audition, only for the reality of auditioning to come crashing down. Another has Ryan performing an impressive piano piece, only for nobody around him in the restaurant to notice. When things are going well one evening, they literally glide off into the stars together.
It’s not just seeing their relationship emerging from their respective climbs upwards that makes La La Land so powerful. It’s unashamedly, wholeheartedly hopeful. In it’s world, the sun never stops shining, and life gets tough, but the laughs still come along. The message it lays out is your hopes and dreams are always out there if you only try hard enough. Everything you want can come true if you pursue it enough, no matter how rocky the road. It ends on a grounded note you wouldn’t expect, and exactly like Whiplash (Dir. Damien Chazelle, 2014), it’s a jaw-dropping sequence that will leave you walking out of the screen with a smile.
La La Land isn’t just nice. It’s gorgeous on the inside and out.