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Review - La La Land

pepper - january 17

 
THE GOLDEN CHILD  of this year’s Golden Globe Awards, winning all seven of its nominated categories, La La Land is essentially a love letter to the pursuit of dreams despite the challenges of our ordinary, everyday lives, and the complications love can bring. 
 
Where West Side Story carved a niche and Down With Love paid cheeky tribute to the genre, Damien Chazelle’s La La Land harks back to the Golden Age of MGM movie musicals and builds on the elements that made them so successful.
 
It has the style and sense of sumptuous productions such as Gigi and An American in Paris (gorgeous adaptations of both are currently being enjoyed by Broadway audiences) and the rather more unusual The Young Girls of Rochefort. 
 
La La Land opens with a finale-sized song and dance number in the middle of a typical freeway traffic jam. If you’ve sat through the trailer without knowing what to expect, this Broadway extravaganza will set the tone and test the non-musical among us.
 
At the end of the sequence, choreographed by Mandy Moore, the dancers return to their vehicles and I wonder why I don’t feel more excited.
 
We’ve entered the realm of magical realism: think Big Fish, Amelie, Pleasantville and Midnight in Paris (some of my favourite films ever), in which things that seem magical are accepted as part of life.
 
I have no problem suspending disbelief, but the opening is surprisingly lacklustre, despite its bright colour and apparent energy, and what follows is a film that looks more glorious than it feels. Is this a deliberate statement reflecting the nature of the city itself?
 
Until its final moments, La La Land fails to live up to the hype. 
 
Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone don’t dance or sing as well as they embody the ambitions and conflicts of their characters, as they negotiate the steps towards careers in the arts.
 
There is just as much romance in their dalliances with fame and fortune as there is in their short-lived relationship.
 
As Seb, Gosling is charming enough but it’s Stone who earns her screen time; she’s completely bewitching, giving the flimsy role of Mia the guts and moment-to-moment nuances the character needs to avoid becoming a stereotypical struggling actress.
 
Despite Stone’s obvious talent for storytelling, the struggling musician tale is favoured and we see much more of Seb’s journey than of Mia’s, his piano playing and touring with a chart-topping contemporary jazz band (with real life R&B star John Legend as the frontman, Keith), while we barely get a glimpse of Mia in between token audition shots, preparing and performing her one-woman show.
 
The point is that ultimately, everyone makes it (or not) alone, and the lasting message is one of hope, and faith that all is as it should be.
 
Chazelle’s final montage elicits a stronger response from me, with its glimpse into an alternate reality, a Sliding Doors moment, in which we consider what could have been. 
 
La La Land could have been so much more but as it is, a charming, life affirming contemporary take on a classic film, appearing at precisely the right time in our global psyche, is sure to go on to win more awards and more hearts yet. 
 
watch the trailer here
 
review  xanthe coward 
 
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