Musicals aren’t like they used to be. While they certainly exist, they feel like they have to make excuses for themselves. They are either based on already existing musicals so they can get by on West End credibility or they either come up with excuses for why the cast are singing or just go the jukebox route because coming up with new songs might take some creativity. But as someone who classes Singing In the Rain as one of the best movies of all time, fight me if you disagree, I want something from that vein to be released. Enter La La Land.
Mia (Emma Stone, The Help) is an aspiring actress who can’t seem to get a role despite turning up for several embarrassing auditions. Sebastian (Ryan Gosling, Drive) is a talented jazz musician stuck doing bland background music in restaurants. However when they meet and fall in love, they drive each other to do the best they can and make their dreams come too.
And I’m going to be completely honest here. This isn’t going to be a review. This is going to be a love letter. Sometimes a film comes along that just ticks all your personal boxes and makes you fall in love and reject any criticism of it like you would your own child. And La La Land does that for me. I’ll be going over all of these in more detail but it has everything I like in a movie. Drop dead gorgeous shots? Check. Vintage style jazz music? Check. Emma Stone looking incredibly pretty? Check. It just has all of things that make me like a movie and when you mix them all together, you are going to come out with a film that I just can’t help but go on and on about. And I go on and on already.
So let’s go through all the reasons I love this movie then so you can understand why I have such feelings. First, the music. It is jazz, though as the film points out not the boring stuff you play at dinner parties to make you seem classier than you are. It is alive and it leads to some fantastic songs. I’m always a sucker for an upbeat catchy track so my favourites are the opener ‘Another Day of Sun’ and ‘Someone in the Crowd’, though I do have a very soft spot for ‘Lovely Night’ because it’s so well structured. But I’ll admit that the slower songs, your ‘City of Stars’ and ‘Here’s to the ones that Dream’ are the best songs. They are beautifully written, beautifully orchestrated and beautifully sung. They are modern classics and I hope thy reach the same sort of fame the likes of ‘Make Them Laugh’ did in mainstream culture.
And yes, this film is gorgeous. And it doesn’t just pick a few times to stun you, it does it in every single shot. I mean seriously, I’ve never seen a film take so much joy in making sure every frame is a piece of art. And yes, you expect the music sequences to be amazing to look at, that’s what you want from a musical, but it does it even when the movie is slowed down. There is no reason for a shot of Emma Stone wistfully looking into a mirror to look as incredible as it does, but it sure does. The director Damien Chazelle (Whiplash) wants this movie to stick in your mind and by providing such amazing imagery, he does.
But the thing that elevates this movie into something truly special is the framing of the story. This isn’t just a homage to 1950s musicals, though the movie does wear it’s influences on its sleeve and is proud of doing so, but is clever because what Chazelle does is plant one of those old musicals right into real life. So while people do burst into song at random and the film does takes flight of fancy to make this love story seem the most incredible we’ve ever seen, this is all planted into the mundanity of real life. So yes, it is very romantic that Sebastian blasts the horn on his car to tell Mia he’s arrived to pick her up, but he will get told off by a neighbor he’s woken up. And no, the dancing is not as spectacular as something that Fred Astaire would have done but in real life, not many people can dance like him. I certainly can’t, I dance like a drunk donkey. And while the film is packed with little moments like that, it truly pays off with that ending, the once in a life time ending, which just hammers home the point better than anything I could ever write.
And now I come to part where I try to pick flaws in which I feel is unfair for La La Land as it’s like being told to say something nasty to your partner, it feels wrong and you know it’s going to bite you in the arse later on. But Shaun is an insistent editor and so I must. As much as I love that ending and think it is fantastic, it is divisive and I think that many will turn against the movie because it doesn’t give exactly what they want, though that is the point. And ok, the film is quite weird in that it rallies against other types of music, especially 80s pop, which is actually amazing. I mean the film expects us to go against Sebastian a bit for playing a modern jazzy sort of pop track with John Legend (Underground), though it’s the best song I’ve ever heard from him, with possibly the exception of Green Light of course. And no movie, you can’t look down on I Ran. That is a classic tune.
I think I’ve made it clear how much I love La La Land. This is a movie I’ll be rewatching anytime I am down, any time something goes wrong in my life. It’s one of those movies that will be on constant repeat, when I’m stuck for something to watch it will go on because it will just be the perfect thing to put on. I’m sure you have a few films you have in your collection than you know you can enjoy at any time and they all have a special place in your heart. La La Land is in that collection for me and it is also in my heart for ever and always.