Damien Chazelle’s third feature, La La Land, confirms two trends in the director’s still relatively young career. Firstly, an inclination towards jazz. Secondly, a tendency to make thrilling, moving masterpieces out of a partnership between the language of music and the language of film. The clashes and harmonies between characters, musicians and dancers are wonderfully shot, the camera acting in complete synchronicity with the movements of the song and dance.
La La Land begins in a less than glamorous location: the 405 highway outside Los Angeles, where hundreds of young people are stuck in a traffic jam. Soon enough though, Chazelle transitions us into the space in which the film resides, somewhere between the optimistic dreams of its characters and a less forgiving reality. One by one, the drivers spring to life in a whirlwind of vivid colour, song and dance – a song about hope, dreams and the big city. And it’s difficult not to fall head over heels in love at first sight.
When the film’s central couple comes together the film completely hits its stride, as Gosling and Stone light up the screen reaching incredible heights – to the point where it induces vertigo when the joy and optimism of the first acts meet painful reality and melancholy. The actors have charm for days, and the voices to match it (including an astonishing solo number from Stone) – and even when they aren’t singing, their performances match the intense passion of the director. La La Land wears its romantic nostalgia like a badge of honour, its influences flooding out onto the screen without any holding back.
A gorgeously photographed, unashamedly nostalgic, bittersweet marriage of the modern and the traditional, proving Chazelle’s fantastic eye for musical sequences. The space between the dreams and reality of La La Land is so perfect, that it hurts all the more when the song finally ends.
CAST: Emma Stone, Ryan Gosling, Finn Wittrock, Rosemarie DeWitt, John Legend, J.K. Simmons
DIRECTOR: Damien Chazelle
WRITER: Damien Chazelle
SYNOPSIS: A jazz pianist (Gosling) falls for an aspiring actress (Stone) in Los Angeles.
First published 31 August 2016 as part of One Room With A View’s coverage of the 73rd Venice Film Festival.