I have not watched director Damien Chazelle’s highly acclaimed drum-drama Whiplash nor have I watched a musical apart from The Sound of Music, which I loved. So what was it that drew me to La La Land? Well, loads of people were talking about it. Emma Stone is beautiful. Ryan Gosling is a fine actor. And the music in the trailer was fantastic. So I gave it a shot.
The story is simple enough: Mia is an aspiring actress who works as a barista at the Warner Bros. lot in Hollywood. Sebastian is a pianist who has taken up the theka of saving jazz. Mia is repeatedly rejected at the auditions she goes in for and Sebastian is trying to hold a job long enough for him to save up money and start a jazz club of his own. They happen to bump into each other a couple of times, leading to spontaneous conversations, which is where the film takes off.
First up, I wouldn’t call this a romantic film. Simply because that is relegated to a lower rung than the ambitions of the characters. Mind you, romance is there. But it didn’t feel forced or ‘in your face’. It was natural and free-flowing.
The songs are fantastic. Full marks for Justin Hurwitz, the lyricists, the vocalists and the musicians. My favourites were ‘Another Day of Sun’, ‘City of Stars’ and ‘Someone In The Crowd’, apart from the instrumental piece titled ‘Mia and Sebastian’s Theme’. The production design by David Wasco is gorgeous. The sets, decorated by Sandy Reynolds-Wasco, are an absolute treat to look at. The editing by Tom Cross is slightly old school, which is where its charm lies. The vintage circular fade outs stood out for me. Mandy Moore’s choreography is evident in how well the dance sequences are executed. The cinematography by Linus Sandgren is epic in scale and treatment. The opening number on an LA freeway, shot in long takes, is a tricky, yet expertly executed piece of photography. The lighting is craftily done, especially in shots where the character is supposed to stand out in the darkened frame. The dance sequence against the setting sun and a purple LA sky is gorgeous to watch. The colours of the film are bright and stand out, yet not one intrudes upon the space of another.
The cast is outstanding. JK Simmons is going to be remembered for playing mean men, a job he does exceedingly well. Rosemarie DeWitt shows up briefly, slipping into the shoes of Laura, Sebastian’s elder sister. John Legend as Keith has the meatiest supporting role and he is able enough in the part. Ryan Gosling does a great job as the reserved pianist. He is expressive without being too verbose. Credit to Gosling for how he plays the piano, a tough bit of prep for a role. He immerses himself into a role not many could have pulled off. You hate him at first for being a first-rate douchebag but can’t help like him by the time the classic ‘The End ‘ flashes on the screen. For me, Emma Stone was the star of the show. Only perhaps half a notch better than Gosling but better all the same. She pulls off scene after scene of high-quality acting with ease. She is effortless in the ‘storytelling’ scene. She makes her character believable, just like Gosling. Naive at first, she literally transforms before your eyes.
Damien Chazelle’s writing is of high calibre. His ode to the musicals of the 50s becomes his own film with his interesting approach to scenes and characters. His direction is a little over-indulgent, but excellent all the same. Kudos to him for being able to make what seems like a fantasy tale come alive. The film is real. And that perhaps is Chazelle’s biggest achievement.
Watch La La Land without further ado!
La La Land: 4.6/5
VARUN BHAKAY’S WRITER’S BLOCK
15th March, 2017