Why is Ryan Gosling so good at everything?
Remember a few years ago, when this film was doing the rounds? Remember the hype around this film that had somehow come out of nowhere and made movie musicals fresh and new again? Remember when Warren Beatty called it out by accident as that year’s Best Picture? Good times.
If it is only remembered for that cock-up (which was no fault of its own) then it’s a great shame, no matter how funny it may seem in hindsight, this film should have a towering legacy of its own without that unfortunate event. It brought its director, Damian Chazelle, to the forefront as one of Hollywood’s best filmmakers, it also brought more positive attention on the sublime Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone (the director and his leading lady would take home their respective top honours on the night.)
Chazelle’s films do usually tend to have a degree of musicality to them, the cinematography in his films is usually so graceful it’s as if it’s conducted by an expert maestro. So balletic is the camerawork in this that it almost seems to work hand-in-band with the choreography, to create a film lost in its little world of music.
His previous film, Whiplash, had dealt with music as well, albeit more confrontationally than this film, this is a love story, told as a classical musical, with a jazzy bent, Whiplash is a full-force attack of music, it’s a tidal wave of musicality, this is a gentle wave, carrying you off to another world, a better world.
It is perhaps one of the best-looking films of recent years, as well as being imaginative and dream-like at times, its true highlights come when it embraces its nature as a classic-style Hollywood musical. THAT dance scene (you know the one, the one with the bench) has etched itself into the movie-going consciousness, and for good reason, it’s two beautiful people performing a wonderful dance routine against a backdrop of such picturesque beauty, you’d be forgiven for think it came straight from the Los Angeles tourism board.
It uses its framework as a classic-style musical to tell a classic Hollywood tale, that of following your dreams in the City of Angels. The story follows two such dreamers; Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) and Mia (Emma Stone) a musician and an actress, respectively, who keep crossing each other’s path an inevitably fall in love.
But it isn’t all sunshine and rainbows in La La Land, there’s a self-aware streak to the story that seems to subtly hint at the filmmaker’s true feelings towards the city. It may be a place of dreams, but it’s also plastic, and fickle. Somewhere where trends are chased, but rarely do those trends evolve out of being a fad, that seems to be the message behind the story and, more to the point, the characters.
Sebastian is a jazz musician; whose sole goal seems to be reviving public interest in jazz. Unfortunately, this attitude towards jazz results in him feeling aloof and arrogant when he first meets Mia, going so far as to call himself a ‘serious musician’ with a straight face, although he is brought to task on this by Mia, acting as an audience surrogate in that moment.
Mia is also a dreamer. She’s the classic out-of-work-actress stereotype, except instead of being a waitress, she’s a barista, working the small-time job until she makes it big, again, a story we’ve heard many times before, but where this film differentiates itself is in the way it’s told, it’s a tale that encourages you to follow your dreams, while acknowledging that your dreams might end up taking a different path, and produce different results, telling you that you don’t always know what you really want, and showing how things work out, even when they don’t seem like they are.
Perhaps this is a naive standpoint in the modern times, but this isn’t a film telling a gritty tale of how life will never give you what you want; it’s pure escapism, in the way that only Hollywood can produce, we may have thought it’d forgotten how to deliver an experience that can be both uplifting and profound, while also having great music, but all it really took was the right pair of hands to assemble all of its parts.
It isn’t just the good work of the director that makes La La Land such a monumental success however, as he also happened to have the perfect cast in place too.
There’s Ryan Gosling, who seems to be predisposed to be amazing at everything he attempts, but he really does it all here, he’s a full ‘triple threat’ (acting, singing and dancing) all the while being incredibly handsome and even when his character is being a first class asshole, he’s still engaging and likable. Still wasn’t enough for his to take home the Best Actor Oscar that year, as he lost out to Casey Affleck in Manchester By the Sea. It’s choices like that which make me glad I’m not on the Academy’s panel.
Then there’s Emma Stone, who is similarly incredible here, producing an outstanding performance in all three areas of the ‘triple threat’. She has several stand-out scenes, her audition scenes that almost book-end the film, one at the beginning interrupted while she was in the middle of an emotional scene, and one at the end, which I won’t spoil, but suffice to say it’s marvellous.
To top it all off, the film has the kind of ending that will really stick with you, it serves as both a recap on the story and a ‘what could have been’ moment that thrilled me to the very bone. In normal circumstance, a dream sequence can really take you out of a narrative; here though, the whole film feels like a dream, so this sequence is the perfect cap on a story that really reminds us just how magical movies can be.
I missed La La Land on its cinema release, and now having watched it in its entirety for the first time, that makes me very sad. This is a film that is perfect for the cinema, and while it didn’t lose anything by being watched at home, I can only imagine how the incredible visuals would look on a big screen.
All of this is topped off with a perfect score, the kind of music that feels like it was destined for this film. With songs by Pasek & Paul (the songwriters behind the monster hit The Greatest Showman) setting the scene for the outstanding visuals and performances and, in many ways, enhancing it.
For fans on movie musicals, this is a dream of a film. From the opening song and dance routine set during rush hour traffic, we know we’re in for a wonderful tale of Hollywood magic, we just didn’t know how much the film would deliver on all the promises that opening set piece would make, as La La Land is as close to movie perfection as it is possible to get; capable of warming the most jaded of hearts, and delighting even the most cynical of souls. A real instant classic, and a cinematic treat.