Film Review: La La Land (2016)

by Richard Alaba

The Hollywood-Broadway musical was the most escapist of all film genres. Conceived during the era of wars and depression, the musical was the most effective happy pill ever invented. It was all about spontaneous song and dance with little regard for narrative or dialogue and even less for reality. It now exists only in libraries and memories: that is, until you see La La Land (2016).

Imagine the opening scene: high on a Los Angeles freeway a young woman jumps out of her traffic-jammed car and bursts into song and dance. She is copied by scores of other motorists all gyrating in sync with the scene filmed from above in a single take.  A boy and a girl make eye contact and this is where the story begins. Mia (Emma Stone) spends her days repeatedly missing out on auditions for her ‘big chance’ in Hollywood, while Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) is a surly dreamer who wants to open a jazz club. A pre-dawn song and dance routine - a la Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - sets them up for love.

This is a story about dreamers and the dream factory, carried aloft by music and generously wrapped in nostalgia. Beneath it all there is a narrative but its incidental to the music. The characters of Mia and Sebastian represent generations of dreamers who have been drawn like moths to fame and their synergy is palpable.

This film is full of memorable moments. A scene where Sebastian talks passionately about the dynamics of jazz musicianship is captivating; the moonlight walks through the city are surreal; and the final scene against a painfully hesitant piano solo of ‘City of Stars’ will squeeze tears out of anyone - and then make you hum the melody for days.

The La La Land camera is like an artist’s brush that composes beautiful portraits against stunning urban landscapes in colour palettes that are richly retro yet modern. This is a film to bathe yourself in, let its exuberance, musicality, and nonsensical scenes of flyaway romance dazzle you. Today’s world needs more la la land.

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