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La La Land – BFI London Film Festival Review

La La Land – BFI London Film Festival Review

The title tells you everything you need to know. La La Land isn’t a film for the haters. It wasn’t made for the swines, the sulkers, the grumps or the grouches. No, La La Land is for the lovers; the fools, the fantasists, the sweethearts and sentimentalists. It’s a heart-racing, hip-swinging triumph; a tale of contemporary LA love that’s played to the beat of a Golden Age musical by writer/director Damien Chazelle, and set in a world of saturated supercolour – a film for those who dare to dream.

Mia and Sebastian (Emma Stone & Ryan Gosling) are two such dreamers. She’s a barista working in a café on the Warner Bros. lot, who spends her life rushing between auditions for second-rate roles. And he’s a pianist with aspirations of one day opening his own jazz club, stuck playing stale show tunes in a fancy family saloon.

The pair’s first encounter, a sudden squabble in the midst of a traffic jam on an LA fly-over, is so fleeting that neither of them notice each other – but already we see a spark between them. Days later, when their eyes meet across the room of the restaurant where Seb performs, the spark has grown into a flame. By the time they are finally introduced formally at a grandiose garden party in the Hollywood Hills, the heat that exists between them is strong enough to fuel an is on that fateful night that Seb and Mia’s lust for each other finally ignites. A moonlit stroll along the San Fernando Valley – sweet nothings and stolen glances – that erupts with sudden seismic force into a tango of tap. So often in musicals such unexpected bursts of song can seem quirky and abnormal, yet between these two it’s as natural as our need to breath.

Gliding across the screen like a modern-day Fred and Ginger, it’s Gosling and Stone who steal our hearts: their pep, passion and illuminating beauty making them an irresistible screen pairing. The love Seb and Mia share is refreshingly comforting – free of emotionally extravagant conflict, it is simply something to be cherished, and we savour every single second spent in the couple’s company.

If one was to describe their relationship as a dance, it would be an American Smooth; an achingly romantic waltz that’s punctuated with spirited swings and lively lifts. Offered the opportunity to tour with a local jazz band, Seb finds himself coursing a commercial career path, while Mia, eager to express herself through a more artistic avenue, sets about staging a one-woman show. The challenges that soon, inevitably arise, are born from the frustrations each face in pursuit of their individual Seb, Chazelle clearly sees a kindred spirit; an artist who favours a freewheeling approach, in a business that thrives on the formulaic – revolution versus tradition. And in an industry that’s apparently only ever willing to gamble on a safe bet, making a musical is seen as the filmic equivalent of flogging a dead horse. When it’s Damien Chazelle holding the reins though, you can be sure you’re onto a winner.

With the visual flair of Jacques Demy and virtuosic finesse of Busby Berkeley, Chazelle has crafted a cinematic carnival that champions creativity whilst celebrating cliché. The rambunctious rhythms of the MGM musicals follow the film throughout: Singin’ in the Rain and West Side Story are both clear influences. However, it’s Demy’s Umbrellas of Cherbourg that provides the greater inspiration – seen in the vibrant colour palette, and heard, most hauntingly, in the final few heartfelt minutes.

Then there are the songs, which sparkle like the stars that shine in a clear nights sky. Reuniting with Whiplash composer Justin Hurwitz, Chazelle again uses music to set the tempo, drawing an infectious energy from the heightened harmonies (‘Someone in the Crowd’), and bittersweet tingles with the more tender tunes (‘Audition’ & ‘City of Stars’). Sat in the audience, the sensation felt is one of soaring excitement that transports us back, with great glee, to an era that’s now so often forgotten… And they say they don’t make ‘em like they used to.


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