A struggling actress and an unemployed pianist find renewed purpose in one another while chasing stardom in Hollywood. This is Damien Chazelle's applauded musical La La Land...
Stone plays Mia, a struggling actress who works in a coffee shop on the Warner Brothers lot in Los Angeles. She bounces from audition to audition without a shred of success whilst Gosling plays Sebastian, a pianist who finds himself out of work right before Christmas. The two bump into one another and begin a delightful romance - but unfortunately they soon find that life is pulling them in different directions. While Gosling is brilliant, it's Stone who shines the brightest - her doe-eyed visage making her a perfect subject for Chazelle's sweeping narrative about dreaming dreams of stardom.
La La Land doesn't ease you in slowly - the opening musical number, which takes place during typical LA peak hour traffic, sets the stage for what is to follow - a gleeful, seamless throwback filled with buoyant, infectious energy. Even after twenty seconds you'll be toe-tapping and beaming a toothy grin. Chazelle, who you might already know from his work behind the camera on the Oscar-nominated Whiplash, clearly loves the material and is excited to leap straight into the action.
After meeting at a party and beginning a sweet romance, Mia and Sebastian soon find life is offering them contrasting fortunes. While one soars, the other continues to struggle - and their life, love and future together is at stake as a result. The film sells this aspect brilliantly; Chazelle captures his two protagonists at a point in their lives where the thought of not being with one another is both heartbreaking and seemingly inevitable. It's both the end of the world and an event that was doomed to happen. Can the lovestruck dreamers pull off the impossible and stay together (after all, teamwork makes the dream work) or will their wistful desire to follow their passions tragically pull them apart?
If this sounds a little too inconsequential for you, I'm afraid La La Land is really about anything deeper or substantial. It essentially boils down to just that - a boy and a girl who meet a party, fall in love and find that life gets in the way later down the track. On the surface their fate might seem quite incidental - but actually the stakes have never been higher. It's both trivial and a transcendental, innately human experience that we've all been through at one point or another, a universal love story that finds new life in Chazelle's caring embrace and skilful understanding of what makes classic Hollywood musicals so endearing to this day.
The cinematography from Linus Sandgren is rich, colourful and textured; the editing is sublime, the choreography is delightful and the aesthetic touches (like a retro title card or scene transitions) are charming additions that capture the spirit of studio era Hollywood.
The original musical compositions are another highlight; 'City of Stars', which was recently nominated for Best Original Song at the Golden Globes, is the brilliant centrepiece but another numbers like 'Someone in the Crowd', 'A Lovely Night' and 'Another Day in the Sun' are fantastic also. The shattering crescendo arrives in the form of 'Audition (The Fools Who Dream)', a song destined to appear on Stone's Oscar reel when she inevitably receives a nomination next year.
There are a gaggle of supporting performances; JK Simmons gets a cameo, Rosemarie DeWitt and Finn Wittrock also appear, but the film belongs to the two lovers at the forefront. Maybe my only quibble is that the film drags it's feet a little in the final 10-20 minutes, but other than that Chazelle keeps the plot tapping along at a merry pace.
The Verdict: 10/10
La La Land is in cinemas across Australia from Boxing Day