Wednesday, January 18, 2017

'La La Land' by Damien Chazelle

18 January 2017

Damien Chazelle’s much praised and garlanded film ‘La La Land’ has been pre-occupying me since we saw it last Saturday. This modern take on the old-fashioned Hollywood musical is beautifully done. It opens with a truly stunning set piece – an infectiously upbeat dance number that had me beaming with delight. Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone are both charming and the film is a loving homage to classic Hollywood musicals, with great music by Justin Hurwitz. And yet … I’m not sure it completely works. I don't think it's too much of a spoiler to say our natural yearning for the two leads to fall in love is satisfied surprisingly quickly, with the minimum of jeopardy. There is then a lot of film left to go and what little jeopardy there is revolves around the difficulties of maintaining a relationship when faced with the challenges of careers and money. While this is refreshingly realistic and modern it feels too serious a topic for a musical. In trying to make a mature, self-aware film Damien Chazelle has lost some of the comedy of the musical-comedy. Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone are not outstanding singers or dancers but they have clearly worked really hard on their performances and the film showcases their talents very effectively. Ryan Gosling learned to play the piano in three months for the film, see: Emma Stone’s audition scenes are painfully believable and reminded me of Naomi Watts in David Lynch’s ‘Mulholland Drive’ (another film that uses the Los Angeles skyline to great effect). Nevertheless Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone end up giving us neither screwball comedy nor virtuosic song and dance. And ‘La La Land’ relies almost exclusively on its two leads: after the first fifteen minutes there are are hardly any big ensemble numbers. Maybe my expectations had been unrealistically raised by the brilliant reviews but the film felt too long and, after its explosive opening, didn’t seem to know where it wanted to go. Each of the component parts was very high quality but somehow the whole felt less than the sum of those parts. If you’ve seen ‘La La Land’ I would welcome your thoughts on it – and if you haven’t I really hope you get a chance to watch the brilliant opening.

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