La La Land (PG)
Rating: 4 / 5
When the opening scene of a movie is an upbeat and energetic one-take song and dance routine, you just know what kind of film you’re in for.
But while La La Land, starring Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, is clearly a homage to the classic era of Hollywood filmmaking, it also comes with a knowing nod and a very contemporary self-awareness that gives the film a fresh, winning edge.
Written and directed by Academy Award nominee Damien Chazelle (who directed the much-lauded Whiplash), La La Land tells the story of two dreamers, Mia (Stone), an aspiring actress, and Sebastian (Gosling), a jazz musician, each struggling to make a mark in Los Angeles, a city built in many ways on the crushed hopes of those who came before them.
Their chance meeting in a jazz bar proves serendipitous (even though it’s anything but romantic). Soon they run into each other in several other settings and before long must admit that they are likely falling for each other.
Against the shine and sparkle of their new romance, the gritty reality of their virtual unemployment seems to fade into the distance. Before long, however, genuine success comes knocking and Mia and Sebastian must decide whether to continue with their romance or give their dreams a red hot go.
While La La Land is set in modern-day Los Angeles, the saturated colour and song and dance routines give the film a satisfying timelessness. There are lots of lovely little details, too, such as all the young women who Mia auditions with wearing the same waitressing uniform, the overly enthusiastic 1980s cover band Sebastian plays in and the never-changing LA seasons, the latter serving to illustrate the imperviousness of Hollywood.
Expect to hum the score by composer Justin Hurwitz for days afterwards (the film’s signature tune ‘City of Stars’ is absolute earworm music). Both principal actors spent months in pre-production fine-tuning their singing and dancing, and Gosling, too, added piano practice to his schedule, so his piano-playing scenes are no trickery.
While not quite the seamless pairing of Ginger Rodgers and Fred Astaire, Stone and Gosling do, however, share a chemistry that translates well on film, with their relationship injected with just enough ‘reality’ for a far more jaded modern-day audience.
Highlight: the opening scene
Red flag: none