La La Land – Review by Jez Gibson

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Is La La Land worthy of the awards hype it is already gaining, and will it make more of us fall in love with a musical ? 

So, I am not really a musical kind of guy, but if something’s good, it’s good…

Add an up-and-coming director who hatched one of the best debut films in years with Whiplash (Damien Chazelle), to an accomplished pair of leads (Gosling and Stone) who dare to do something different, then this was always going to be one to watch. 

La La Land gets an awful lot right.

The opening scene is spectacularly good, almost West Side Story good, staking a claim in modern movie history. This scene alone has such impact it deserves an award. It’s like when a classic Bond film draws us straight in to the action even before the opening credits have started rolling. 

The film’s look, those leads (that can sing, play and dance), memorable songs and score, the nod and homage to its founding fathers from a multitude of musical genres; these all enable a lightning-speed education for those of us who are not overly familiar with the musical genre.

The film just has these moments that feel fresh and new, yet vintage and nostalgic. Some of the dance routines would not be out of place in Singin’ In The Rain. The choreography, mixed with intelligent and innovative song lyrics enhance this modern tilt.  

However, this is a film that loses its way at times. There are almost too many other films and devices that are referenced and paid tribute.  There are a few too many tricks that ultimately dilute the story and prevent us from connecting further with the fantastic leads.

It’s as if Damien Chazelle has been given too many toys to play with and should have been more selective. Some of these scenes feel like they could have been decent DVD bonus features all packed in here; or like an overblown Director’s Cut, when what we need is the shorter, tighter, theatrical original. 

I would still recommend that this is a film that should be seen in the cinema as there is so much to admire and appreciate. I would challenge those of you who think you ‘don’t do’ musicals to just have a go. You need to have an open mind to see what both the flamboyantly big and intimately small musical numbers feel like, mixed with moments of artistic surrealism. This really is a modern musical brought to us through a different lens.   

As someone who loved Whiplash, and have seen it multiple times, you can see its DNA -Damien Chazelle’s DNA – all through the film. Whiplash is in fact the tighter, more complete film.

What is also important to consider about this film is that this is not another sequel or reboot. It is bold and fresh, yet thoroughly old fashioned. Gosling and Stone both have the star power to beckon us in. 

Chazelle comes from a music college and performance background, and you can see through the film that this is where his core strengths are. He is not yet a master of his trade but a talent in the making. A more experienced hand at  developing the story and characters further would ultimately make this a more fulfilling film.

La La Land is 100% a directors movie. It is a bold statement to satisfy those who love a musical, and it dares to try to recruit some new fans to the genre. This is a valiant and deserving 8/10, but there is a tinge of regret that Mr Chazelle was so close to getting a perfect 10.