La La Land: Worth the Hype?

Alexandra Rego, our Film & TV editor, gives us a review of Chazelle's acclaimed new movie La La Land.

 The opening sequence of Damien Chazelle’s La La Land is arguably one of the film’s most stylized, a song and dance number filmed on the freeway in three long takes. Supposedly, California was going through a heat wave at the time of filming, the glare off cars’ windshields nearly burning through the shoes of the dancers as they worked through various takes. Though pre-production for this film involved an unheard of three months’ rehearsal, it should be noted that occasional, albeit brief, moments in a long dance number were out of sync, stumbling, dancers noticeably covered in sweat (and various critics noted the technical imperfections of song and dance throughout the film as a whole).Despite this, the cast noticeably seemed to glow throughout with a strange sort of radiance, bathing in sunlight while performing a number that opened a film which was on one hand, a love song to Hollywood and its rich, fantastical history, and on another, a swan song for the modern artist, holding this fantastical history far too dear to achieve full artistic satisfaction. At its centre, La La Land can perhaps be best paraphrased as an occasionally surreal, occasionally musical, occasionally romantic film that seems to be completely enamoured with its own reverberating cinematic nature.Hailed as arguably the year’s best film; critics seem to have universally agreed that Damien Chazelle’s La La Land is a well-intentioned, well-constructed homage to twentieth century Hollywood musicals, centred around two of this generation’s most recognisable movie stars with electrifying chemistry, based on a score that is in parts anachronistic, emotive, and honest. Those few who have opposed this overwhelming praise criticise the film’s lack of technical perfection, diversity, and ambition, or argued that the ambitious task of creating a ‘modern day musical’ overtook the capabilities of cast, crew, director, and composer. This article will attempt to succinctly separate what worked and what did not in this critically lauded film.On a positive note, Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling once again proved that the chemistry that essentially propelled them both to mainstream stardom in Crazy, Stupid Love has become a permanent fixture in modern film popular culture. While perhaps Stone has received more appreciation for her role as Mia, an aspiring actress, her rapport with Ryan Gosling’s militantly purist jazz musician Sebastian allows an atmosphere of personal comfort between to actors take over in spaces where perhaps both actors’ discomfort with, say, tap dancing and jazz piano, might easily overshadow the intention of a given scene. Costumes, lighting, and sets seemed to hark back to a bygone era in Hollywood, from the vintage posters in Mia’s bedroom to the array of nearly hyper-real colours that splashed across Hollywood throughout the film. The film allows itself to be camp, indulgent, and hushed in parts, creating a Los Angeles that is a breeding ground for creativity, mistakes, and, in some cases, romance. Though it is a heavily romanticised Los Angeles the viewers are treated to, and a heavily self-aware aesthetic, without a setting to reflect what Mia and Sebastian see in it, the film would not work as a functional whole. The contrast between ambition and value, success and individuality, seems almost metaphorically displayed between the technical imperfections of Mia and Sebastian’s singing and dancing, and the nearly flawless Los Angeles we are given., as previously stated, several film critics argued on some occasions that the film displayed a curious lack of diversity, considering the vibrant array of diversity throughout California, and Los Angeles in particular. Though John Legend had a large supporting role in the film, his character was criticised by Ryan Gosling’s Sebastian for sacrificing the integrity of his art for commercial success. However, it could be argued that John Legend’s Keith was one of few characters completely in tune with the modern Hollywood, and how to work through its fallbacks to his own advantage. The group scenes had a fair amount of diversity, and it should be noted, recent Oscar protests in memory and mind, that Hollywood’s successes have rarely been known for their attention to these details.Though invariably flawed, perhaps the genius of last year’s Whiplash ought to prove to viewers and critics alike that Damien Chazelle rarely makes a directorial decision by accident, and La La Land’s flaws are essential to its remarkably honest understanding of what it means to be a struggling artist or dreamer in the twenty first century. Unable to fully shake off the wonder and seeming perfection of artistic history, the characters in this film are unknowingly, if not unassumingly, very much the norm. Rarely has a film, let alone a musical with several surreal, even celestial elements, managed to translate the essence of a generation in a (perhaps slightly too long) two hour time frame. Alexandra Rego