As somebody who frequently turns their nose up at films that everybody finds popular purely for the sake of being contrary, I would usually pronounce the word ‘musical’ with the same bile that somebody might pronounce the word ‘hookworm’. Yet in spite of this vitriol of the happy-clappy singalong genre, I have been slowly warming up to the concept of musicals. Not by Les Mis, obviously, because that film was about as enjoyable and interesting as the pathetic revolution it purported to depict. No I’m talking about the Guys And Dolls level of musicals, with catchy scores and likeable characters; the kind that will make even the most jaded and cynical member of the audience tap their feet in enjoyment.
If you find yourself being of similar tastes, the La La Land certainly provides for a rarely-filled niche. Fans of director Damien Chazelle’s previous film Whiplash (another title to add to the ever increasing list of films that have slipped past me) will enjoy the musical theme, as the plot revolves around the romance between jazz pianist Seb (Ryan Gosling) and aspiring actress Mia (Emma Stone). As a film revolving around music, it’s a good thing that the music, both sung and instrumental, is utterly superb, moving from fast paced big-band ensemble numbers to moving piano solos. And the fact that these solos are played by Gosling himself certainly gave me a new found respect for the actor’s ability, if not distracting me from his occasionally questionable singing voice. The chemistry between Gosling and Stone is completely convincing, with both actors apparently drawing from each others experiences of rejection and disappointment in order to play their respective characters. And you do not realise how fortunate you are to see these two onscreen until you are made aware that the original pair set to star were none other than Emma Watson and Miles Teller. Consider that one nauseating cat-strangling bullet dodged.
The film is very romantic, but not in a soppy way. The aforementioned chemistry between Stone and Gosling really make you invest in the characters and their struggles, and whilst avoiding spoilers, the bittersweet nature of the ending will really make you realise how attached you are to the couple. But what the film manages, without being self-indulgent or high-brow, is a brilliant element of realism. The central motivation is that long-suffering Hollywood bollocks about ‘following your dreams’, but this is the first film I have watched which has really gotten to grips with the frustrations of doing so in a convincing and relatable way. As a struggling artist (of sorts), this film really struck a chord with me (no pun intended), and the fact that I’m still talking and thinking about it days after watching it is worth considerable note. Admittedly I was talking about Les Mis days afterwards. Well, shouting about it. And swearing.
To sum up, I found myself surprisingly enamoured with La La Land. With a compelling story, likeable characters and delightfully varied tones throughout, this is a film which will have you laughing and potentially crying at different points. Given my previous track record, I am amazed I managed to keep it together. With profound statements being made about music, cinema and the arts, the film is thought-provoking without being pretentious. And if you just want to gush over the Hollywood romance, it’s more than adequate in that capacity as well. Even the most cynical and moody individual will struggle not to tap their fingers in time to ‘City Of Stars’.