A romantic musical comedy written and directed by Damien Chazelle, La La Land is set in modern-day Los Angeles. It revolves around a struggling jazz musician, Sebastian, and an aspiring actress, Mia, who get caught between their dreams and their fragile love affair. The movie stars starring Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone in the lead roles and also features a cameo from J.K. Simmons who had won an Academy Award for Whiplash—Chazelle's previous directorial venture. La La Land premiered at the Venice Film Festival on 31 August this year, where Emma Stone won the Best Actress Volpi Cup.
The film takes the best of cinema, theatre and music and serves it to us on a platter in a most sumptuous manner.
Vintage Chazelle, La La Land is classic Hollywood. It is so full of Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, James Stewart, Kim Novak, and other movie gods of Hollywood's Golden Age. Although we don't really get to see them, we can feel their presence. Every frame of La La Land reminds us why we adore movies. Although Chazelle dotes on Hollywood's glitzy razzmatazz, he himself comes across as a pretty straightforward fellow and it shows in every scene of La La Land, just as it had in Whiplash. Incidentally, Chazelle had written the script for La La Land six years ago but no one was willing to fund it until the success of Whiplash changed everything. And if Whiplash had left any doubts then Chazelle has proven with La La Land that he is here to stay.
There is so much one can learn by watching La La Land. The film takes the best of cinema, theatre and music and serves it to us on a platter in a most sumptuous manner. Every sequence of La La Land—the principal photography of which took only 42 days to complete—serves as filmmaking masterclass (take, for example, the spellbinding opening sequence which was shot in just two days): Chazelle demonstrates to us how gritty writing, clever direction, brilliant acting, innovative cinematography, and imaginative mise-en-scène, choreography & sound (diegetic and non-diegetic) can combine to create cinematic magic. Chazelle, an amateur drummer himself, introduces us to the world of jazz. But, above all, he uses La La Land as a conduit to teach us the importance of pursuing our dreams.
La La Land may not be the best film to have come out of Hollywood in recent times but it is certainly one of the most creative...
La La Land makes for a wonderful cinematic experience. It is ebullient and so full of life. And, like all good dramas, it is also painful and heartbreaking at times. Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling look so good together that could watch them forever. It is as if they were born to play Mia and Sebastian. Their chemistry here reminded me of Bergman's and Bogart's in Casablanca! La La Land may not be the best film to have come out of Hollywood in recent times but it is certainly one of the most creative, which makes it an essential viewing for those who love movies. There are no two ways about it. To miss it would be like missing a day in your life. Chazelle is a force to be reckoned with. La La Land marks his foray into the big league. Let's hope that the Chazelle of Whiplash doesn't get left behind.
P.S. La La Land has emerged as a major contender for the Oscars. Nominations are almost certain in all the major categories such as Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, and Best Original Screenplay. It is already nominated for as many as seven Golden Globes.
A version of this review was first published in A Potpourri of Vestiges.