Movie Review: ‘La La Land’
Written by Conor Battles on January 17, 2017
Image via Lionsgate
Film: La La Land
Director: Damien Chazelle
Release Date: December 9, 2016
Studio: Summit Entertainment
“Here’s to the fools who dream,” Emma Stone sings on “Audition,” one of the standout numbers from Damien Chazelle’s La La Land. It’s an endearingly doe-eyed, overly saccharine moment; one that captures the half-romantic-half-naive idealism of classic Hollywood. In other words, it’s the perfect encapsulation of La La Land.
Chazelle proved himself a skilled director with 2014’s Whiplash. The incendiary, frenetic energy of that film evoked a filmmaker who was geared towards finding the action and the drama in just about anything. What makes La La Land such a surprising achievement is that Chazelle largely avoids the explosive pacing and tension-filled sequences of Whiplash. The film flows along at a breezy rate, lolling steadily through gorgeous Los Angeles scenery and over-the-top musical setpieces.
Stone and Ryan Gosling make for an outstanding onscreen pairing, oozing charisma and charm with a sense of youthful purity that’s more like Astaire and Rogers than Brad and Angelina. It is a credit to both their acting ability and Chazelle’s screenwriting that it’s so easy to suspend disbelief and see them not as A-list actors but as their characters – aching, desperate Hollywood dreamers still awestruck by the world they inhabit.
Perhaps more important and rounded than the leads is the character of Los Angeles itself. Chazelle manages to instill a sense of magic and wonder that flawlessly harkens back to old-school Hollywood without relying on overt nostalgia. There are Casablanca references scattered through the movie, and a key musical number is set on a stretch of road with an awfully Singin’ in the Rain-esque streetlight, but La La Land retains its own identity.
In a musical, the performances, writing and cinematography only go so far. The quality of the songs are of the utmost importance. Fortunately, frequent Chazelle collaborator Justin Hurwitz and the legendary songwriting team of Pasek and Paul come together to craft some truly exquisite pieces. The lush exuberance of “Another Day of Sun” starts the film off with a veritable bang, and the numbers that follow run the emotional gamut with aplomb.
Ultimately, what makes La La Land so effective is its sincerity. There’s no pseudo-clever trope inversions; no half-baked genre “twists” on the classic musical formula. La La Land is a pure, crystalline effort to evoke the ageless grace and charm of classic Hollywood musicals, and it largely succeeds in that endeavor.
One of the most frequently-cited facts circulating online surrounding the production of La La Land is that the film has been a passion project of Damien Chazelle’s for years. The script made the rounds through various studios and was passed on every time – there just wasn’t any demand for a throwback jazz musical. It wasn’t until the breakout success of Whiplash that the doors began opening for Chazelle and his musical. The fact that La La Land is, in itself, a Hollywood legend in the making only makes the finished product more magical. Here’s to the fools who dream.