By Thomas Simpson
Fans of Damien Chazelle will be familiar with the writer/director’s love for jazz. His debut feature film, Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench, told the tale of a Boston jazz musician with 2014’s critically acclaimed Whiplash highlighting the volatile relationship between a jazz drummer and his mentor. His latest work, La La Land, further explores the themes of his previous films albeit substituting the intensity of Whiplash for the world of a warm and colorful musical.
Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone star as Sebastian and Mia. Sebastian is a struggling jazz musician while Mia has her own battles as an aspiring actress. After an initial and abrasive introduction, the pair strike up a friendship and eventual romance. The boy meets girl formula then plays out in expected fashion albeit in a joyous and fantastical manner.
There is undoubtedly a clichéd predictability to La La Land but it is overshadowed by the exceptional storytelling on display. Gosling and Stone have an incredible chemistry that radiates off the screen with both actors excelling in their roles. Gosling has a smouldering intensity that the camera loves yet his Sebastian is undeniably geeky and at times awkward. He’s only as good as his leading lady with Stone turning in a fantastic performance that exudes passion and demands affection. It’s difficult not to root for them even if the pitfalls are glaring.
The original soundtrack feature songs composed and orchestrated by Chazelle’s long-time collaborator and college classmate, Justin Hurwitz. The songs don’t dominate the film, instead they complement the story with affection and whimsical set pieces. The soundtrack is infectiously catchy for the most part and wonderfully elevate the film and outshines a plot that has been played out 90 million times before.
Although the plot is formulaic, the script is beautifully written with such care and devotion giving to the source subjects and the couple’s relationships. Far from being a rollercoaster, La La Land is a pleasant ride that kicks up a gear for its grand finale that launches the audience on an intense emotional journey that will leave you feeling momentarily drained but utterly uplifted. After cleaning up at the Golden Globes, La La Land has its sights on the Oscars and no one could begrudge the cast and crew taking home more than one little golden statue. It’s an uplifting tale with a contagious amity that will have you unconsciously tapping the main theme for days to come.