Thursday, 26 January 2017

Review: La La Land

Year: 2016
Director: Damien Chazelle
Screenplay: Damien Chazelle
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone

Synopsis is here:

I write this review of La La Land on the day Donald Trump is sworn into office as the 45th president of the united states. Since November, the world has descended into a kind of mania, due to America’s decision to elect the businessman-cum-reality T.V star. With good reason, too. Strangely the only other thing that’s had as a cult of personality as strong as Trump on my twitter feed, has been Damien Chazelle's Oscar forerunner La La Land.

However, for all my liberal film writers despairing at The Donald’s apparent lack of progressive thought and seemingly regressive desire to shoot America back to a lily white 1950’s that never really truly existed, it’s fascinating to see many of them fawn over a movie which at times feels like it’s doing similar. La La Land is a film that doesn’t so much have one foot in the past, rather than a whole leg and while the film gives everything a lot of gusto, it’s fizziness falls into forgetfulness very soon afterwards. Is it because I’m not a musical fan? No. La La Land does really well with two actors that aren’t particularly known and watched for their musical talents. I feel one of the main issues I hold with La La Land is (that going back to Trump) it appears at a time where real life cynicism is so overwhelming, that the film’s colourful escapism has filled a void in many. Not a problem. We often need the fantasy. But second coming of MGM this is not.

Despite my apparent negativity towards the film, La La Land is actually easy to like. It’s two leads, Stone and Gosling have chemistry in their dancing as well as their acting, with Stone sparkling in her role of Mia, a struggling actress. It’s hard not to smile at the two bouncing off each other. We’ve seen this before in Crazy, Stupid, Love (2011), but in La La Land the two have far more time to fizz off each other and that’s a good thing.

However, this is a film pauses itself to have a little moment about how Jazz is all about conflict and yet decides against having too much of it. It does a lot to hark back to the MGM musicals of old, but never feels as radical or dynamic as the best of those movies. Bizarrely the moments that stuck in my head were not so much the grand song and dance set pieces, it was the smaller quieter moments which struck me. When the singing stopped and we saw two great looking performers give each just the right look into each other’s eyes.

Meanwhile, director  Damien Chazelle shows off his technical prowess with La La Land’s overcomplicated camerawork infiltrating the film’s simple narrative. The film’s visuals are often impressive but also very self-aware. Much like the film’s references, it’s enough to push a person out of the film. The film also lacks the same beautiful use of rhythm that graced Chazelle's Whiplash (2015). Granted we’re not looking for the rat-a-tat tempo of that movie, but at no point does La La Land feel like it’s going with the flow. Again, this stems from the film’s roaming camera, which never feels like it trusts it’s cast. It really should.

While this not meant to be as intense as Whiplash, La La Land has Damien Chazelle again looking into themes of art, jazz and sacrifice, although here the film holds a certain amount of artifice. This is not because of La La Land’s flights of fancy, but down to the suggestion that despite black innovation (John Legend in a small role) and an Afro-American old guard, the real heart of Jazz lies in hip, young, white traditionalist Ryan Gosling and his busy hands. Not so much of an issue in Whiplash in spite its New York Middle class setting. La La Land and its nosedive into the awards pool, shows itself to be a very “white” movie. Amusingly, this highlights why I try not to pay much attention of the Oscars. For all the debate around #OscarsSoWhite, the success of La La Land as we hurtle towards the academy awards is very telling and by no means surprising. Films like La La Land do well because it’s a film of a certain model, in love with its past glories. It just so happens that those glory days weren’t particularly diverse.

As much as film writers have been quick to hail La La Land already as a modern classic to be remembered, at times it’s no more a throwback to relatively easy nostalgia than Transformers or Marvel Cinematic Universe, although it is a classier one. It’s often sparkly, sometimes lavish, but certainly a transparent revert to type. A relatively frothy musical which is quick to remind us of older movies but not as memorable musically as one would hope. Musicals should leave a viewer with a spring in the step. This left my mind with some bright spells amidst a slight cloud of fog.