FILM REVIEW: La La Land taps into Hollywood’s golden era

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With the Fred and Ginger style La La Land writer-director Damien Chazelle makes the musical genre of Hollywood’s golden era relevant once again.

There’s more to this brightly coloured, tap-dancing romance than mere nostalgia.

The hopes and dreams of a wannabe actress (Emma Stone) and a jazz pianist (Ryan Gosling), who’s reduced to playing 80s pop at Los Angeles pool parties, feed into the film’s elaborate subtext. It’s Chazelle’s interest in the conflict between aspirations and responsibility that drives substance into the dreamlike vistas of Hollywood and the utopian sets of Universal Studios.

There’s a fragility to this film’s musical paradise, reflected in soft piano number ‘City of Stars’, that feels very honest: at any moment everything could be lost.

By contrast, the film’s opening number is insanely happy - a riot of people dancing on cars - but its only when Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling finally get a scene together that La La Land starts to sparkle with all the promise of a hit Gene Kelly musical. It’s the duo’s chemistry, their comic timing and sharp put-downs that’s the real draw here. Their voices pass muster but they’re hardly Broadway, instead it’s their energy and charming, tangled emotional connection that makes La La Land at once so spectacular and intimate.

It’s difficult to believe that this funny and joyful romance comes from the director of Whiplash, 2015’s intense drama about a would be drummer and his ferocious teacher. Yet both films share the same love of jazz. Along with Whiplash and Chazelle’s first feature Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench, La La Land forms a jazz trilogy that explores the conflict between traditionalism and innovation in the genre. In this final offering, Gosling’s pianist explores what it means to be a jazz musician today: should he innovate as the jazz greats did? Or continue to play their once ground-breaking sounds now seen as outdated and dying by a new, disinterested generation? La La Land, with its own re-imagining of the classic Hollywood musical is Chazelle’s grandest, symbolic exploration of this very debate.

Hollywood is enchanted by films about itself. La La Land is funny and moving, a gorgeous Hollywood spectacle that defies comparison with the vast majority of modern day cinema. No wonder then that La La Land has already swept up every award it was nominated for at this year’s Golden Globes. Yet it’s Chazelle’s honest and relevant writing that imbue La La Land with a sense of longevity that’s absent from The Artist and, to a lesser degree, Midnight In Paris. The final sequence provides the perfect closure for Chazelle’s jazz trilogy, capturing all of the style’s raw, emotional power.

Rating: 5/5