“People love what other people are passionate about….”
I have a grotesque confession to make. I am not the man you thought I was. For I am, at my very essence, a musicalist. I hate musicals. The whole idea of them. I hate the contrived, saccharine feel of musicals. I hate the boring and repetitive songs. I hate that they aren’t all like The Blues Brothers. And now you know my terrible secret. Just don’t sing me a song about it.
This goes some way to explaining the fact that it has taken me so long to see La La Land, despite my undying love for both Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, not to mention the lavish praise the films has received, culminating in six Oscars. Writer/director Damien Chazelle first came to prominence with his tour de force Whiplash in 2014. I am absolutely astounded to say that he may have topped even that film with La La Land. It is that good.
Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) is a principled but talented jazz musician who struggles to unify his traditionalist view on music with the need for commercial success. Mia (Emma Stone) is a struggling actress who combines failing auditions with working in a coffee shop. La La Land is the story of Seb and Mia and their tumultuous relationship. And that is it. Because the best cinema, hell the best art, doesn’t have to be complicated to be beautiful.
I have followed the career of Ryan Gosling since his astonishing performance in Half Nelson back in 2006. His trajectory is such that for me he is now unparalleled at the very top of his profession. I would take Gosling over Di Caprio any day of the week. His performance here is one of nuance, depth and resonance but his co-star matches him every step of the way. Emma Stone has come a long way since Superbad and it is her vulnerability that really sells La La Land.
There are two things that set Damien Chazelle’s masterpiece apart from other musicals that I have shunned. Firstly, the music itself is magnificent. The American director has already proven his in depth knowledge of jazz with Whiplash but he builds on that here to craft one of the most enchanting soundtracks of the last decade.
Secondly, and most importantly, La La Land is a love story first and a musical second. Even though Chazelle is offering a love letter to an era of Hollywood that I know next to nothing about, he captures that feeling so well that he can make anybody feel like an expert. The real genius here however, is that whilst it occasionally feels like we have seen this story a thousand times before, in reality the journey and subsequent conclusion of La La Land is unlike anything I have seen before. It is breathtakingly heartbreaking whilst still offering hope and redemption.
I love films dearly and there are a lot of films I have cherished over the years. Few of them I could describe as a bona fide work of art however. La La Land just made that list.