12A, 128 mins.
It’s very telling that the first opening title of La La Land reads: ‘Presented in Cinemascope’ in narrowed, letterbox black-and white, before expanding into glorious Technicolour. This is the balancing act the film itself expertly juxtaposes: throwing back to a sense of old-fashioned romanticism from Hollywood’s Golden Age, while also being utterly fresh. It manages to feel both fuzzily nostalgic, and strikingly original, simultainiously.
It does this, by casting two of our most recognisable contemporary stars, Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, who seem every bit as polished as Fred and Ginger themselves; it’s no overstatement to call them our equivalent. Stone plays Mia, an aspiring actress, who continually runs into Seb, a struggling jazz musician. Stone’s wonderfully expressive, emotive and endearing, while Gosling’s self-deprecating, sardonic and subtle - with fantastic piano skills.
It’s a love story - as much a glossy, bitter-sweet ode to LA - as it is a conventional romance for the central couple - structured unconventionally. It triumphs over the stumbling-block so many musicals are faced with, as to why characters spontaneously burst into song (it hits the ground running, and takes a little getting used to), by so cleverly framing the musical sequences in a dreamy, heightened, stylised realism, before returning to their more mundane realities. The song-and-dance moments are a total delight: especially a tap number beneath LA’s twilit skyline, and a floating waltz around the stars of an observatory. Director Damian Chazelle, the thirty-one year-old Oscar-winner of Whiplash, has crafted a joyous treat that’s fizzing with optimistic effervescence. It’s a studied milieu of a setting that dichotomises both a celebration, and a display of its own iconography and shallow artifice (frequently adorned with painterly backdrops of palm-trees, back-lots and A-Listers): ‘They worship everything, but value nothing’, observes Seb.
For the first new movie-musical in years, there are some very memorable tunes and lyrics: ‘She was freezing, she spent a month sneezing / Maybe this appeals, to someone not in heels’. The opening bars of ‘Someone In The Crowd’ stick with you, and there’s a great supporting, first acting role for John Legend, who has his own new song.
It’s certainly the favourite to scoop the most at awards season, and similarly to An American In Paris or Singin’ In The Rain, feels like the next classic!
Rating: * * *