Blake HowardComment

“LA LA LAND” (2016) Dance away your modern malaise

Blake HowardComment
“LA LA LAND” (2016) Dance away your modern malaise

“La La Land” is writer/director Damien Chazelle’s musical love letter to Old Hollywood and it’s a resounding success on all fronts. There’s a strong critical consensus of its quality, for its modest budget it was a huge financial success, and looked as the thought it was an award winner with “Titanic” level award momentum. Unfortunately like “Titanic” an iceberg was floating dead ahead to sink this behemoth. Yes, Bonnie and Clyde themselves (Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty) took a Tommy gun to their well deserving team’s dream of Oscar gold and the all class producer Jordan Horowitz had to intervene and right the wrong of one of the biggest public mix ups of all time. 

Sebastian (Gosling), a struggling jazz pianist with lofty ambitions to open a shrine to jazz and Emma Stone’s Mia, the granddaughter of an Old Hollywood screenwriter and budding actress. As their lives intersect, they inspire each other to will their dreams into existence. 

If you’re stuck in the cycle of hell known as #filmtwitter you see nothing but unfair animosity for this rather brilliant film. Accusations of man-splaining jazz, too overt a nostalgia and offensively white romantic leads; I definitely have questions. Why can't someone be passionate about this movie and just and want to share that with their friends or partners? Why can't a budding actor, especially an actor related to a pioneer female writer who worked as a cog in the old Hollywood machine, dote on those movies and the romance of that era. The swelling negative sentiment about the historically conservative Best Picture choices of an ageing white academy awards voter created a ”La La Land" versus "Moonlight" smack down. "Moonlight" is a sublime film, an instant and beautiful classic no doubt; but a vastly different film for different ends. 

Chazelle is a deserving Oscar Winning Best Director. L.A has never looked as magical as it does in “La La Land.” Kinetic and inventive camera choreography, bursting with bright colours, magic hour shooting creates backdrops that defy belief. 

Oscar winning Emma Stone, and her Oscar nominated co-star Ryan Gosling, deliver tremendous triple threat performances. Stone’s Mia is wonderful. It’s not the scenes where she beautifully sings and dances that pack the emotional punch; it’s the replication of a wide casting call and the tragic certainty of “no” after mere seconds.  Gosling’s Sebastian is a more contradictory figure, so much more certain of those around him than himself. “La La Land,” does lose momentum in the middle of the film during the time that Sebastian takes a job in a contemporary soulless pop-jazz group that soothes the financial grind of him pursuing his dreams. Seb takes a gratingly stretched journey in a loop before he’ll listen to his own sage advice. Once distance is created between Mia and Seb you’re denied the satisfaction of their dizzying love. 

“La La Land” takes a city of broken dreams and gives us characters that are willing to take chances in spite of tasting that bitter pill of reality. “La La Land” concludes with a sequence that elevates the film. There’s no jazz improvisation, it’s precise a nod to one of the greatest movies of all time. Seb and Mia will always have that tune; we’ll always be able to play it again when we watch “La La Land.” 

★★★★

Blake Howard is a writer, a podcaster, the editor-in-chief & co-founder of Australian film blog Graffiti With Punctuation. Beginning his criticism APPRENTICESHIP as co-host of That Movie Show 2UE, Blake is now a member of the prestigious Online Film Critic Society, sways the Tomato Meter with Rotten Tomatoes approved reviews. See his articulated words and shrieks (mostly) here at Graffitiwithpunctuation.com and with DarkHorizons.com & 2SER Sydney weekly on Gaggle of Geeks.