XXY Reviews: La La Land by Damien Chazelle

XXY Reviews: La La Land by Damien Chazelle

La La Land is director Damien Chazelle’s latest all singing and dancing Oscar contender. It tells the story of Mia and Seb, an actress and jazz musician trying to make their way in the precarious world of Los Angeles. The film oozes 1950s Hollywood glamour, yet is firmly rooted in the modern day. And it’s a wonderful blend. La La Land is sleek and stylish. But don’t be fooled by this glitzy exterior. It is packed with heart, too.

The film is unashamedly a pastiche. From the opening title that announces it is ‘Presented in CinemaScope’, to a scene in the Griffith Observatory in which Seb and Mia literally dance among the stars. It is reminiscent of the days of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rodgers; a time when Old Hollywood promised a glossier, vibrant way of life. But La La Land is also a product of the 21st Century. And Chazelle’s use of this dichotomy is what makes his film so unique. Old and new, glamour and reality, songs and dialogue. It confidently treads the lines between two worlds.

Through all his use of magical techniques, Chazelle never loses sight of what’s really at stake. This is ultimately a love story and the director captures this beautifully. Mia, played by Emma Stone, and Ryan Gosling as Seb, have sizzling chemistry from the outset. Their paths collide one day as Mia is drawn into a restaurant where she hears Seb playing the piano. Cinematographer Linus Sandgren’s work is wonderfully at play here. The close ups of Mia lay bare her feelings towards this attractive stranger. The sweeping shots of Seb at work mirror his fluidity and passion. And later in the film, as the moon rises and the lampposts light up, Sandgren uses a wide angle and single take to capture a tap dancing scene that flows like something from Singin’ in the Rain.

His head might be in the clouds, but Chazelle’s feet are firmly planted on the ground with this film. And he demonstrates that life is not always so rosy; particularly in the entertainment industry. Sure, Stone and Gosling might be getting big pay cheques at the end of this production, but they are also wonderful storytellers whose faces read like books. Something that is entirely necessary when La La Land wants to be as earnest as it is animated. In one particular scene, Mia is interrupted during an emotional audition, and the upset and frustration seep through Stone’s eyes. These moments nicely counterbalance any dream-like qualities. Musical numbers aside, their journey is a tough one. We see sweat, we see tears. Behind the scenes, Gosling even learnt the piano over a period of three months so that his character’s playing would be authentic. This was no whimsical endeavour.

La La Land

Despite what the posters allude to, relationships are no dance in the park. One evening, our two protagonists argue over the dinner table about their respective careers. Seb is on a break from tour; he is busy and makes a decent wage while Mia is unfulfilled in a one-woman show. No stops are pulled at this point. It’s simply two people having a disagreement about the effect their aspirations have both on themselves and on each other. And it hits home – you don’t have to be an actor or performer to appreciate this. Chazelle is back to his old tricks with contrast here. Expectation versus reality. To quit or not to quit? We are left bearing the weight of these questions.

Make no mistake, however. La La Land is an ode to the dreamers. A celebration of life, a film that entertains. It might be a hybrid of genres but it is acutely aware of its own identity, and Chazelle knew exactly how to drive this film towards an Oscar nomination. He made bold choices and ran with them, making this film utterly unique. Call it whimsical, call it crazy; you can’t deny it has true spirit. And yes, life is tough sometimes. But why not add a hop and a skip to help us on our way?

Written by Georgina Grier,


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