La La Land movie director: Damien Chazelle
La La Land movie cast: Emma Stone, Ryan Gosling, John Legend, J K Simmons
Love is a many-splendored thing. But really all it needs is a girl in a yellow dress, against a violet-hued evening sky, in the soft light of a lamp-post, with a boy carrying her strappy blue heels.
Damien Chazelle’s La La Land knows what love is about. His directorial venture after the Oscar success Whiplash shimmers with it. And that word is not to be taken lightly. As Mia (Emma Stone) and Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), two kindred, struggling artistes, find their way towards each other in a city (Los Angeles) that feeds on dreams, our heart is hardly ever in its place. Every joy, ache, wonder the two feel is wonderfully expressed and joyously captured by Chazelle.
It lies in the songs (original music by Chazelle friend and regular collaborator Justin Hurwitz, original lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul) it lies in Mia and Sebastian’s twirl, it lies in the skip in their feet, it lies in how she lifts the edge of her dress waiting to be swept into dance, and it lies in how he tucks his one hand into his trouser pocket to take her there.
The scene at the theatre —
in a film that is so obviously an ode to the Hollywood and musicals of yore, but also the power of cinema, in the little stroll Mia and Sebastian take through the Warner Brothers Studios — is lyrical in how the girl and boy locate each other in the theatre and sit in tenuous anticipation, their knees just knocking, their hands just touching.
Chazelle tops this with a visit to the Griffith Observatory, where in another of those magical moments — magical despite our most cynical selves — Sebastian and Mia literally walk among the stars.
Once the love is done though, Chazelle flounders. The conflict, such as it is, seems forced. And the debate, between pure art and a compromise, seems to be around just to propel the story forward. The idea is as casually dispensed with as it is introduced, and Sebastian’s passionate explanation of jazz history to Mia is almost laughable in how amateurish it sounds.
If Sebastian is holding up the end of the artist with the oldest dilemma in the world, Mia gets a shorter, almost cruel shrift. Pummelled in countless auditions where few pay her any attention, she writes and stages a solo act that Chazelle pays almost no attention to. That is the one work of sincerest, hardest creativity here, and the pains and labour of it (something so vivaciously on display in Chazelle’s other writer-director venture Whiplash) are of no concern. Chazelle also does Simmons no credit in the role given to him here after Whiplash.
The other turn in Mia’s life is almost as unbelievable as this part, as anyone making a career would vouch for.
However, that is not to take anything away from the many achievements of this rare musical, which serenades rather than spins: the opening sequence, where the song ‘Another Day of Sun’ almost bursts forth from a miles-long traffic jam; the twirl by the lamp-post in ‘A Lovely Night’; the haunting yearning of ‘City of Stars’; and especially, especially the desperation and virtuosity of Mia’s audition with ‘The Fools Who Dream’.
However, the film’s greatest achievement may yet be giving us those glorious evenings (full marks to cinematographer Linus Sandgren) — barely acknowledged, rare to come by, hard to forget, still aglow in the warmth of the day, still carrying the promise of the night. A la la land.