By Jack Dignan
I’d just like to begin this review with an apology. I walked out of this movie mildly disappointed. I loved it, absolutely loved it, but I just wanted to like it a tiny bit more. I wanted to walk out going “that was the best film of the year,” like I was expecting to say. I wanted to love absolutely everything about it, but I didn’t. I was, unfortunately, mildly disappointed, and told this to the people I went with, to which they obviously disagreed. To everyone I said this to, and to the film itself, I am sorry. I was wrong. Much like with Star Wars The Force Awakens last year, a film *this* good is just too much to handle. I’m not sure why. I’m not sure how. It just is. I walked out of both of those movies positive that it was a 4.5 star movie, but after sitting down and actually thinking about them, I was in love. So yeah, my initial disappointment was oh so very wrong, and I have serious regrets.
La La Land is the story of two central protagonists. We begin with Mia (Emma Stone), a waitress with aspirations to be an actress, despite nearly all of her auditions going rather poorly. We’re then introduced to Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), a struggling pianist with a passion for jazz. He knows it’s a dying art, but his love for it is strong, and he hopes to open up his own club and bring it back to its former glory. The two, through chance, meet on several occasions, and after a while they decide to go on a date. Sort of. But romance ensures nonetheless, and we follow their attempts to follow their dreams while falling in love, resulting in the most beautiful movie of the year.
Thank god for La La Land. This is honest to god one of the best films of 2016, and I feel as if I might even bump that up to ‘best film of the year’ position after a rewatch. Its sheer magnificence was way too much to handle at first, hence my slightly underwhelming initial reaction, but ever since stopping and thinking about it, the film just gets better and better and better. I’ve not been able to stop humming the songs or replaying its deep and powerful finale over and over in my head. The entire film is pretty much going to be on loop inside my mind for the rest of my life, and to be honest, I don’t really have a problem with that. In fact, it’s a very good thing.
It’s a film that feels as though it was thrown right out of the golden age of musicals, but at the same time, it feels very modern. It feels very fresh and new, relevant for audiences today. It’s got a nostalgic feel to it. Actually, it doesn’t seem right saying this film is nostalgic. This is more than nostalgia. This is more than a throwback. This is something that was born and bred from a love of both classic cinema and classical music. It’s a film about passion and love and people’s dreams, and it’s told through powerful and emotional storytelling that will grasp your heart and rip it right from your chest. There hasn’t been a movie like this in the history of film, and it truly is utterly wonderful.
Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling have shared the screen several times before, and they’re a pairing to always look out for. The two share excellent chemistry, and their relationship here is more authentic and real than it’s ever been on screen before. The characters just work, and I loved absolutely everything about their performances. They draw you in to this story and keep you there forever, bringing you on this whirlwind of music, emotion, love and dreams. It’s a film that will hit you hard, much like Damien Chazelle’s last film Whiplash did, but for very different reasons. While Whiplash is an intense, chair-destroying masterpiece, La La Land is more of a personal and romantic tale of one’s ambitions, but it’s impactful all the same.
What Chazelle has managed to craft here can easily be considered a work of art, and at times it quite literally is. It’s one of the most beautiful looking movies I have ever seen, the colours and overall aesthetic just immensely satisfying. It’s lively and wonderful, truly feeling like a dream at times. He manages to dazzle audiences with not only an impactful story, but also pleasing visuals, and I’m not just talking about the transfixing sequences that feel out of this world, like the scene at the planetarium, but even just the scenes in which two characters are talking. He manages to make ordinary scenes like those into an art form, and that’s impressive.
This is, after all, a musical, and upon completion of this movie, I wanted to go home and watch every musical ever made. On top of every amazing thing about this film, it’s also a love letter to music, cinema and several other things. The musical sequences are thoroughly mind blowing, combining together so many things to make for an extraordinary piece of film. The movie opens with a dance number involving dozens of extras and it’s all done in one big long take. It’s one of the most impressive things to come out of any movie this year, and it doesn’t stop there. One of the more gorgeous, but smaller scale musical numbers is simply between Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, and that’s also done in one take. Best cinematography of 2016? Without a doubt.
Normally with musicals, it’s the music that really carries the movie. It’s the music that people come out of the cinema singing along to, and while that is the case here, it’s not the thing that carries it. Nothing in La La Land carries the movie. There is no one thing that makes this movie as good as it is. Every little tiny component of it comes together to make for one of the best films you will see this year. Or in the opinion of many, one of the best films you will see in your entire life. There’s no stand out moment because every moment is a standout moment. Every scene, line and character beat has been imprinted into my brain and it’s there forever. It’s not possible to forget this movie. It’s absolutely unreal, and a movie you need to experience as soon as possible.
To sum up, La La Land is so much more than movie. It’s a film that’s almost too good to be real, and if you come out overwhelmed and need a moment to process it, I won’t blame you. I know I certainly did. There has never been a film like this before, and if I don’t see it at least ten more times in cinemas then can I really call myself a lover of film?