La La Land Review / August 2018

Everything I believe to be true about Los Angeles - that it is a city unavoidably steeped in film history and brimming with possibility among neon signs and sparkly views - is vindicated and on display in Damien Chazelle’s nostalgic, bittersweet La La Land.

Its no accident this marks Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling’s third on screen pairing, giving Hepburn and Tracy, Bogie and Bacall some competition.  Stone plays Mia, a struggling actress reaching her breaking point with fruitless auditions and nonplussed casting directors. Mia meets jazz aficionado and musician Sebastian (Gosling), having just been fired by his surly boss (Chazelle repertory player J.K. Simmons) from a gig playing Christmas classics at an upscale restaurant. Mia and Seb run into each other again at an industry-types pool party (featuring a hilarious 80s covers band and Gosling in full A-ha mode) and have screwball banter followed by a synchronised dance number high up in the Hollywood hills. Naturally, they begin dating.

Chazelle (Whiplash) takes great care to show LA in its best light, refreshingly treating us to shots on locations throughout the city seldom seen in other movies of the same setting.  His love of film is palpable, paying homage to its history borrowing motifs from Funny Face and West Side Story to The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. Mia is also a fan of classic cinema and golden age goddesses. Posters of bygone female stars like Norma Talmadge and a particularly giant Ingrid Bergman are glimpsed throughout her bedroom, exhibiting that La La Land is a love letter to Hollywood itself.

It’s impossible to overstate how gorgeous the cinematography is. DP - frequent David O. Russell collaborator Linus Sandgren’s flair and ingenuity makes the magic of scenes like the Griffith Observatory dance sequence devoid of cheesiness. The musical component isn’t intrusive or jarring and only serves the narrative, moving plot along and giving insight into character’s feelings and motivation.

Despite frothy romantic montages drenched in stunning colour palettes, the pendulum of success swings in opposing directions for Mia and Sebastian. Their relationship breaks down off the back of his commercial success as part of a popular band and failure of the one-woman show Mia has worked so tirelessly on (if I were asked to justify Stone’s Best Actress Oscar, I would refer to the all too-relatable dinner table fight). The post-time jump ‘what could have been’ sequence during the third act where we learn that in reality, the couple are not together is heartbreaking. The musical number finale is elaborate and beautiful, closing the film with a Busby Berkeley worthy bang.  If you’ll excuse me, I’m off to write some alternate ending fan fiction and sob into a glass of something fizzy.