Directors: Damien Chazelle
Reviewed: 9 December 2016
Stop whatever you are doing this weekend, and see La La Land. It reminded me of the transcendent power of cinema, touching on Casablanca, Rebel Without A Cause, and Singing in the Rain effortlessly and effervescently. To dismiss it as a musical or pure escapism is a mistake. The film is deeply philosophical and full of wonderment, and Damien Chazelle and his cast and crew are deserving of all the accolades that are sure to fall their way. It is the best film of the year.
Mia (Emma Stone) is an aspiring actress, current barista, on a Hollywood studio lot; Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) is a committed jazz pianist with dreams of opening a club one day. The film chronicles their paths crossing multiple times and eventual love affair and more, but from the get-go, Chazelle takes his cast out of LA traffic, notoriously hellish, and begins spinning them around and forging a musical out of the space of the freeway and blocked cars. It is a dazzling and audacious beginning to the film, and its infectiousness permeates everything that follows. Stone and Gosling are both charming and fully capable of handling the physical demands of the film, gliding their way through and past famous landmarks and gorgeous light-diffused sunsets. Their charm and chemistry, firmly established in Crazy, Stupid, Love never wavers, and it is comforting to know that we will be seeing these two stars perform for many years to come. The film engages with questions about burgeoning relationships and commitment to dreams, as well as what pivotal moments in our lives look like and feel like, both in the moment and in retrospect. Chazelle makes a leap forward from his passionate and abrasive film Whiplash and plays with time and narrative in ways that are both bold and breathtaking, with the future coming back around to the past in ways that surprise. And there's even a fun cameo from his previous film to reward viewers.
And the music and dancing! I lack the full vocabulary and awareness of the multiple styles and references that Chazelle uses in the film, but I will just say this: it is phenomenal to watch. La La Land is a tonic for our times because it is medicine for the soul, healing art that inspires and calls upon the deepest urges within us to create art, to view art, to appreciate art, to become one with art. "City of Stars" is hauntingly beautiful and sure to win Best Song and it echoes in my brain, three weeks after seeing the film: "I think I want it stay / City of Stars / Are you shining just for me? / City of Stars / You never shined so brightly."
La La Land seems all the more powerful when juxtaposed against the current scary political climate of late 2016, a year that has been ruthless in its claiming of artists who have meant a great deal to me, from Alan Rickman to David Bowie. The film is unabashedly hopeful and romantic and sad and light and light on its feet, and I do not know if there will be a better film this year. Bravo.