It’s satisfying just to see Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling tap dance whilst simultaneously looking for their cars on the gargantuan Hollywood Hills really, but this is far from the highlight of Damien Chazelle’s latest film. The success of his last, Whiplash, placed considerable and not unwarranted expectation on La La Land. Spectacular in style and substance, there’s an honesty here that is beginning to be seen more and more frequently in cinema. Do we all meet a romantic partner and live happily ever after? Do we gain immediate recognition for what we are most talented at? Reach our fantastic aspirations through zero hard work? No, no, and no. Of course not. The film industry often has an unhealthy and frustrating knack for fictionalising the unnecessary and spouting out the most ridiculous stereotypes. Praise be, we are finally seeing content that is actually relatable.
Harking back to the golden age of Hollywood, La La Land takes us on a front row tour of the city’s unforgettable sparkling history with plenty of references to old favourites such as Rebel Without a Cause and Casablanca. Social conventions and expectation are discussed heavily in the separate but unified lives of Mia (Stone) and Sebastian (Gosling). As an actor she is used to attending auditions where every other girl looks exactly like her and as she tries to find her identity and place in the world. Conversely, it is this very process that emphasises the uniformity of the industry. As a jazz pianist, Sebastian must contend with having to play music that either bores him severely or is excruciatingly embarrassing. At what point do we find ourselves in these ruts?
For those who are performers, there’s much to empathise with here apart from the obvious. The need to find a ‘real job’, to finally ‘grow up’, are frequent nags at those working in the most unstable creative industries. Making money in order to live ‘normal’ existences; to shut up the disapproving normalcy of 9-5 society and perhaps finally selling out — or giving in. For those who cannot relate to La La Land in this way, it will touch anybody who has been in a relationship and actually managed to remain independent while trying to support the other’s dream.
Aesthetically and stylistically speaking, La La Land is exquisite. The fundamental contradictions are subtly given through colour, such as Mia standing out from the crowd. The design and direction given to this film are overtly theatrical and veer into hyperbolic territory but never feel even remotely corny.
Stone gives us everything. Her face is capable of what we want and aren’t even aware we are craving. It’s astonishing to watch her more emotional scenes, shot using unbearably touching close-ups. Her voice and grace make this a role that could never have gone to another actor. Gosling is excellent as the sceptical Sebastian; wonderfully charismatic and relaxed.
The truth, power and beauty of La La Land are sure to make it a classic. Oh and it’s funny too, if you’re a fan of laughing and stuff.
La La Land screens at the BFI London Film Festival 2016.
Words by Samuel Sims