Review: La La Land
I didn’t know what to expect from La La Land. The trailer had made it out to be cheesy, romantic and fabulous: everything a musical is supposed to be. But I’m always a little sceptical of new musicals, having grown up with the old ones, and this time was no different.
The opening song, ‘Another Day of Sun’, pushed the audience right into a pool of cheese. Commuters stuck in traffic sing an upbeat, catchy tune, while dancing around and on top of their cars: in other words, the exact opposite of how I feel on a Monday morning. The song is a warning sign to the viewers that they are about to experience something like a big piece of cheesecake topped with shamelessly neon raspberry sauce. Cringe-worthy, and yet it was delicious, and the perfect way to put us in the mood for a grand, dramatic movie with spontaneous bursts of song.
When I learned that the stars of the movie were Emma Stone (whom I had no idea could even sing) and Ryan Gosling, (the guy from The Notebook? Really?) I feared that they were just two more famous actors cast for their pretty faces (no offense Hollywood, but offense). But as it turns out, their characters – Sebastian and Mia – were three dimensional and quirky, which is not the case in every love story. The actors’ chemistry was natural and at times, hilarious.
The only thing that didn’t have me convinced was their singing. While both were on key and there was nothing noticeably wrong with their timbre, their voices lacked power and confidence. Stone has a pretty voice, but it was nearly always hushed and airy. And Gosling’s surprisingly deep tone never went outside of its very limited comfort zone. Together they sounded fine, but the stars of a musical need more than that. There are so many multi-talented artists who could have blown us away. Not to mention the fact that most of the minor characters had more impressive vocal techniques in their mini-solos than did the two main stars in the whole film.
One of the major strengths of the movie is definitely the soundtrack, composed by Justin Hurwitz, which was carefully crafted to create a combination of authentic jazz instrumentals and catchy musical songs that works beautifully hand in hand. And it is important to note that yes, the rumours are true: it was, in fact, Ryan Gosling playing the piano. The actors had three months to prepare for the musical, during which Gosling learned to play (and excel in, might I add) the instrument. It’s one thing to learn a new instrument, but to become that good in such a small amount of time, and play jazz, which is arguably the most complex music genre, was an ambitious and impressive task.
The plot was one of the weaker elements. Yes, “reach for your dreams” will always be a major message in musicals, and that’s part of why we love them, but the plot in which that idea is integrated is getting a bit cliché. Especially since a musical movie with a very similar plot came out recently with Anna Kendrick: The Last Five Years (2014), which is also set in the modern day and features two struggling artists trying to balance their careers with their relationship.
Director Damien Chazelle’s vision of an old-style musical soundtrack set in the contemporary day worked better than I imagined. The new cars and smartphones took nothing away from the romantic and glamourous atmosphere achieved through bright colours and semi-fancy dress parties. If anything, including all aspects of the modern world made it all more natural (or at least as natural as a world in which people randomly burst into song can be).
In any case: a must-see, and I’m not the only one who thinks so. Since its release on December 9th 2016, the film has already been nominated for 218 awards, and won 141. This includes seven Golden Globes, breaking the record. You can still see La La Land in Canterbury cinemas – it’s coming to the Gulbenkian this February, and has a handful of showings left at the Odeon and Curzon.