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La La Land – Singin’ ’n’ the Ryan!

16 January, 2017 — By Dan Carrier

Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling in La La Land

Directed by Damien Chazelle
Certificate PG

APTLY named, this wonderful love song to Hollywood dreams is all about not believing what you see on the big screen nor hoping to emulate the tales that come out of it, but instead making your own kind of music, to quote Mama Cass.

It pays homage to the glamorous, golden years (oh, how that is a horribly hackneyed and over-used phrase) of Hollywood, giving us a Gene Kelly / Debbie Reynolds-style romance with a couple who seemingly can’t stand the sight of each other at first but we know, oh how we just all know, they were made to be together… aren’t they?

Mia (Emma Stone) is a barista working on the Warner Bros plot, meaning her dreams chasing a life as an actress are even more pronounced by the view from her coffee shop window and the stars that drop in for their caffeine fix. We meet her at a point where every audition feels like nothing more than a nail smashed into a coffin containing her still-born career.

Seb (Ryan Gosling) is a purist jazz pianist, who harks his style back to the days of Basie and the like and just doesn’t see why no one else gets it. He rages at the fact he can earn a decent living in a covers band or playing schmaltz in a restaurant, but not giving the world awesome jazz.

The two are destined to meet, fall in love, go through some trials and tribulations, and then… well, wait and see. This film works for a variety of reasons. Its two stars have genuine likeability and charisma. The story is actually deeper than it appears at first (shaping your destiny, chasing what you really want to do), and it looks simply delicious. It’s all primary colours to swoon at, swingy jazz music to tap your feet to, and pretty people falling in love. That is, after all, what Hollywood movies are about, right?

Director Chazelle did the brilliant Whiplash, and for further nods to audience to make them in on the joke, he has cast miserable conductor JK Simmons in a side role, reprising his “do as I tell you, musician loser!” bully. It’s a cheeky nod. He also references such films as The Umbrellas of Cherbourg in a footnote list that includes Rebel Without A Cause and a ton of other MGM classics.

He goes big on his colours and imagery – every scene has a neon light with a name in it, or a mural of a star. It’s a postcard of a set. Hollywood loves movies about Hollywood, and La La Land is no different – but done with such retro panache, glorious fun and general loveliness I can forgive its silliness and its occasionally duff note when songs leap out and jazz hand you in the face.


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