6 Academy Awards, 6 Golden Globes, unanimous acclaim from critics and audiences – the world has fallen in love with La La Land. But does this retro Hollywood musical live up to all the hype?
Disclaimer: Musicals are not my favourite film genre and neither are romances.
It was with some trepidation that I finally checked out La La Land (a month late) mostly out of a professional obligation to see all the Best Picture Oscar nominees, and also to see if all the fuss is warranted. How good can it actually be?
When it comes to musicals, I’ll take Rocky Horror, Little Shop of Horrors, Grease and The Sound of Music every time. Moulin Rouge left me feeling like I’d just ridden the Luna Park Gravitron multiple times after eating a bad dippy dog – would I feel the same surge of nausea while watching La La Land?
It didn’t get off to a good start – a gridlocked freeway erupting into song and dance; Emma Stone singing wistfully into the mirror… But once Ryan Gosling’s driven jazz pianist was introduced and the story began in earnest, I’ll admit I was hooked.
La La Land is a thoroughly endearing story about falling in love and following your dreams; it’s charming without being overly twee or sugarcoated, and bittersweet when you least expect it. Gosling and Stone’s mutual attraction is the kind that inspires them to break into a Fred and Ginger routine under a lamppost in a deserted parking lot, but that’s more about Damien Chazelle’s vision for a contemporary romance with an old fashioned Hollywood flavour, Technicolor aesthetic, and super-widescreen Cinemascope framing.
However, for a musical, none of the original songs are particularly memorable and the film would actually be better off without them. Where it does excel musically is in the jazz numbers involving John Legend and The Messengers – La La Land is as much about Chazelle’s love affair with jazz as the one between Gosling and Stone. It’s also a love letter to old Hollywood that captures the magic of the movies and filmmaking in the same fashion as 2011’s Best Picture Oscar winner, The Artist.
One of the reasons moviegoers have embraced La La Land became immediately apparent to me during the trailers beforehand: Fences, Loving, Manchester by the Sea, Moonlight. In a release slate dominated by heavy dramas, audiences want a film that’s as light as the popcorn they’re munching on, and one that will put a big smile on their faces. For mine, it was the pleasure of seeing a really good movie after sitting through so many cookie-cutter blockbusters and the likes of Split, xXx: The Return of Xander Cage and Resident Evil: The Final Chapter in the space of two weeks – that’s when going to the movies feels more like work.
So yes, believe the hype and don’t miss one of this year’s best films.