I should make clear before I talk about La La Land that I don’t like musicals. Specifically, I don’t like the songs. There’s something about that particular brand of song that I can’t get on board with; a combination of the lyrics, the intonation and showy theatrical nature.
Anyway, I bring that up purely to give you some background ahead of reviewing the film.
Despite my show tune aversion, I was genuinely looking forward to La La Land. The reviews were great; I loved Damien Chazelle’s previous film Whiplash; and Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone are consistently good (and good together in Crazy, Stupid Love). This was going to be the exception to the show tune rule.
And then the first 15 minutes happened.
I didn’t enjoy the opening song on the freeway, nor the Emma Stone song with her flatmates, nor the song with Stone and Gosling after a party. I spent the minutes in-between dreading that someone would suddenly break into song.
My worst fears proved ultimately unfounded. In a sense, it’s strange that La La Land so casually leaves behind the traditional musical. Justin Hurwitz’s theme for Mia and Seb floats delicately in and out of the film, but there’s arguably only four show tunes in the whole film, and three of them are very early on.
After that, its structure becomes looser.
Chazelle throws in a fantastical dance number here, a passionate defence of jazz there. It’s a hodge-podge of ideas and strikes of a writer/director keen to throw in as many of his interests into two hours as possible. It probably shouldn’t work and – and maybe if you wanted a straight-up musical or another Whiplash, it might leave you somewhat disappointed – but Chazelle’s passion and the sheer brio of the production sees it through.
It’s also helped by a witty script and, in Gosling and Stone, two perfect leads. It’s one of those scripts that suits both to a tee – Gosling is dashing and snooty, but as showcased in The Nice Guys, is entirely at home with rat-a-tat dialogue and physical comedy too. Stone, meanwhile, is on home turf with a character who cracks wise to shield her sensitive side. She is, of course, winningly good.
The film wouldn’t work without some spark between the pair, and it’s in evidence here as it was in Crazy, Stupid Love. There’s aren’t many modern day on-screen couples with as much vitality and chemistry as these two.
Although, like Whiplash, there’s a bittersweet nature to the final third, it’s a film infused with sheer joy. If you like your films cheery and musical – and even if you don’t like musicals – make sure you go before it leaves cinemas
Rating: 4/5 (5/5 if you like show tunes)