La La Land (USA)

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La La Land directed by Damien Chazelle La La Land directed by Damien Chazelle

The 73 Venice Film Festival opened literally on a high note with director Damien Chazelle’s musical extravaganza La La Land. 

Set in contemporary Los Angeles but with its heart filmly in the 1950s it is obvious from the start that this is Chazelle’s homage to the old time Hollywood big musical and surprisingly he pulls it off.  There is also plenty of influence on show from French director Jacques Demy's 1960s musicals The Umbrellas of Cherbourg and The Young Girls of Rochefort . We are thrown right in at the start to one of the film’s biggest production numbers set in a massive traffic jam on the LA freeway.  The logistics of how Chazelle managed to do this boggle the mind but the opening sequence is amazing as well as a statement about how song and dance can uplift us.

There is a massive traffic jam and traffic is at a standstill on the Los Angeles freeway.  Drivers are stuck in their cars and for anyone who has ever been stuck in LA rush hour traffic it is not conducive to putting you in a good mood.  But one by one the drivers get out of their cars and start singing and dancing.  Before long we are in the middle of a wonderful big musical production number.  We are already hooked.

Chazelle’s storyline is pure old time Hollywood fare. Mia, an aspiring actress, played by Emma Stone and Sebastian, a dedicated jazz musician, played by Ryan Gosling are struggling to make ends meet in a city known for crushing hopes and breaking hearts.  We first see them among the drivers getting out of the cars in the big freeway musical number. At first there is a hint of friction between them but we already know that this is because they are falling love and are sure to end up together just as such heroes always do in a Hollywood musical.  Both of them are artists and dreamers and intent on making it in Los Angeles and Chazelle has said that the film is about how we balance our dreams with the demands of real life.

But what La La Land is really about is a chance for wonderful song and dance numbers that evoke the best of 1950s musicals.  Starting with the spectacular LA freeway musical number Chazelle is not afraid for his characters to break into song or dance at the drop of a hat.  This is pure fantasy and it works. This is about falling in love and the floating-on-air feelings that it gives you. 

After a few complications Mia and Sebastian discover that they are made for each other and we find them living together.  Sebastian has taken on a job in a band playing music that he does not believe to make a living while Mia goes through the heart-breaking process of auditions.   As disillusion sets in Emma understands and urges Sebastian not to lose sight of his dreams. The two of them fight over this but in the end love and dreams triumph. All of this is told through a wonderful sound track of songs and dances. 

One of the highlights is Emma Stone as in a wonderful performance as she sings the ballad number Audition.  All in all Stone turns in a luminous performance throughout.  Chazelle has giving us dreams and an uplifting fantasy to believe in, in a world where dreams are in short supply these days.  La La Land looks set to be a box office hit.

Directed by Damien Chazelle (USA)

Cast: Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, John Legend, J K Simmons, Finn Wittrock