Here's to the ones who dream.
La La Land arrives in the UK with enough five-star reviews to light a summer-night Los Angeles sky and six Golden Globes to boot. That makes for a lot of expectation, all of which I tried to jettison on entering the cinema, so I could sit back and experience the film on its own terms. Five minutes in I was wearing a stupid grin and my feet were moving rhythmically beyond my control. Yes, it had me that early.
The story is simple. Emma Stone plays Mia, an aspiring actress running the gauntlet of LA auditions. Ryan Gosling plays Seb, a jazz pianist reduced to playing Christmas jingles in a restaurant, instead of performing the music that he loves. They meet, they banter, romantic sparks light up the firmament. Both want love, along with success in their artistic field. Can they have it all?
La La Land feels real, even though it's filtered through the style of classic Hollywood musicals. The grainy realism of modern romantic drama meshes with glorious technicolour dance routines. Think Singin' in the Rain meets Woody Allen. If you've reservations about the style, the film doesn't. It sets out its stall in the opening minutes and lets you deal with it.
Director Damien Chazelle brought us the incendiary music-school film Whiplash and his daring shows even more here. Dance sequences are shot in apparent single takes, the camera's choreography as superb as that of the dancers. Showbiz pizazz ebbs into realism, before flowing back into full-blown Hollywood glamour, but all the tonal changes work perfectly. The editing is super-sharp too, spinning audience emotions on a dime. LA is made gorgeous - never more luminous than in the lovers' dance-duet overlooking the city. (Not a spoiler - that bit's on the poster.)
Credit is also due to the leads. Stone and Gosling's chemistry burns up the screen. Mia is sassy and vulnerable, a fine actress played by a fine actress. Seb has confidence and wit, undercut with earnestness. Together they're a joy to watch - you'll be rooting for them to succeed individually and as a couple. Gosling actually learned to play jazz piano for his role and that they both trained to sing and dance like Golden Era movie stars. If they don't quite scale the technical heights of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rodgers, they make up for it with buckets of charm and likability.
I haven't even mentioned the music. There are three tunes vying for attention in my head as I write this, that's how well they stick. And the ending - this story is a ride, and the end-point is beautifully judged. I shall say no more.
Is the film perfect? Technically pretty much, on every level. There are a few dots that needed joining in the subplots, but even saying that feels like nitpicking - I feel too good about this film to go looking for criticisms. So I'm going to chuck another five stars at this tale of love and artistic ambition for its sheer joy and accomplishment.
Now ignore this review along with all the others and go experience La La Land for yourself.