This is such a good movie.
Honestly, I don’t think I could write a long textual analysis of it. It’s conceivable that, if I did, it would fall apart. And look, I could do that, but I’m not a monster, nor an accomplished film critic capable of substantiating my own opinions. But some movies just don’t deserve to be nitpicked. They’re too sincere in their meanings, too committed to their vision to be pulled apart with overanalysis of subtext and of potential character flaws. They’re good enough at what they do, and so heartfelt in their intent, that they earn the right to be taken at face value.
La La Land is one of those movies. And wow, the face value is something else. It’s a well-oiled machine where every part carefully fits into the clockwork precision of the structure, yet it never feels mechanical. On the face of it, it would be impossible to link it with the past work of its director, Damien Chazelle, who helmed the equally fantastic Whiplash, with a sun-baked visual aesthetic that’s soaked in big, vibrant primary colours as opposed to the muted grit of that film. Yet there’s actually a surprising amount of shared DNA below the surface in its manic, headlong dive into the plotlines it opens up, and the swooping one-take vistas in which the camera loops and spins round its characters. It’s deeply nostalgic, reverent in turns for the technicolour sincerity of Old Hollywood and the freestyle experimentation of old music, and surprisingly modern, with a romance that feels right for 2017 in its frank honesty that not all relationships are kitted out for marriage and a happily ever after. It’s a sweeping old Hollywood musical with glitzy, ultra-catchy numbers full of colourful signing and dancing that can pivot at the snap of a finger into punchy, sharp back-and-forth dialogue exchanges that zing with thoughtful comedy.
Most of all, it’s just incredibly sincere. It’s not averse to comedy, or to subverting genre tropes, but it’s utterly committed in its tribute to people who care passionately about what they want to do, a message that it never once tries to undermine. At its core, this is a movie about the joy of liking things unreservedly for the sake of the pleasure it gives you. It’s almost like Damien Chazelle reads my blog.
Oh yeah, and there’s Gosling and Stone. Everyone loves both of these actors, right? Both are given the chance to dive deep into the hopes, dreams, fears and flaws of these characters, and they unearth idiosyncrasies and character tics that give the characters a fullness beyond the script. Gosling’s allowed to mix his Nice Guys self-deprecating comedic chops with a soulfulness that brings across Seb’s passion for his craft in a realistically flawed yet admirable way. And Stone has turned witty, ever-so-slightly downbeat pathos into a fine art, which she channels into a character who could very easily have come across as the more thinly sketched of the two. Neither is a truly accomplished singer, but their commitment and enthusiasm shines through anyway, and Stone’s big solo is as affecting and musically satisfying as anything you’ll see in the theatre.
There’s already a backlash out there, I know. There always is for any Oscar hopeful. There are those who would have you believe that the film is hopelessly derivative, that the story is bland, that the music is generic, or that Ryan Gosling’s character is a sinister jazz robot whose all-encompassing commitment to pure jazz makes him into the kind of creep that should be avoided at all costs. And hey, I’m not Sean Spicer. I can recognise that my opinions are not facts.
But for me, at the very least, La La Land is a big, warm hug that leaves a melancholy aftertaste (my metaphors are unmixed, thanks). It reels you in from the start with proud, bombastic Technicolour nostalgia, and ends up becoming something more emotionally complex, signing off on a brilliantly bittersweet ending that denies us gratification but offers fulfilment by the truckload. It is thoroughly deserving of the Best Picture nod it seems poised to snatch.
Don’t like musicals, you say? You’ll like this. I swear it.
And you can trust me, because I have a free WordPress blog.