First Viewing: 4 Stars
La La Land is a bit of an enigma,. A film about Los Angeles and those who live there. A film about what it is to be caught up in having a dream. A film which brings back the glamour and charm of Ye Olde Worlde Hollywood in a modern setting. It's one of those films which you wonder if it is going to be overhyped - too big for it's boots - one that you won't like because everybody says it's great (I'm thinking of Sin City here - a film I walked out of... ergh-eww)
And it is a joy, once you get over the jolt of cynicism that you have going into this very hyped film, and once the Cinemascope colours settle into your eyes and initial headache dies down and once you realise that you're not watching a normal film.
It's not a normal film. It's a musical of the ilks of "Singing in the Rain" and "Pillow Talk" with a little bit of 'The Way We Were" thrown in for good measure, just set in modern times. It's quirky, it's fun. It's thought provoking. And most of all, it's magic.
Having seen this about a month ago, I was happy when a friend suggested this as a Friday night movie. Coming out of the film on New Year's Eve I remember enjoying it, but knowing I'd want to see it again to pick up the stuff that I know I'd inevitably missed. Something was missing for me on that first viewing - I couldn't put my finger on it.
The second time round, I let myself escape into this bubble of fun. I let go of trying to expect something and gave myself full permission to escape into the world of "La La Land". I wish I'd done that the first time around.
It's a film you're either going to love or hate. I'm erring on the side of loving it, with a couple of reservations.
The story is quite simple. An aspiring jazz pianist and an aspiring actress/barista meet and fall in love. Well, that is the crux of it.
Ryan Gosling is superb as Sebastian, the jazz pianist - moody, fairly obnoxious and rather driven. he learned the piano for this role, and does an incredible job. Oscar nomination, definitely. Oscar winner - maybe not. The great thing about his performance is it is nuanced - and you like him more as the film goes on.
Emma Stone is wonderful as Mia, the actress. The only thing that put me off her performance is her HUGE eyes - akin to those of E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. Her performance brings in elements of Audrey Hepburn and Debbie Reynolds. Her singing voice, though not overly strong, is perfect for the role (and she does sing in tune - so full marks for that).
The small roles played by Rosemary De Witt (ever the sensible sister), John Legend (super cool) and J.K.Simmons (Juno's Dad / J.J.Jameson from Spiderman) are great.
What this film does best, which is what surprised me in the first viewing, and allowed myself to accept in the second, is entertain without apology. From the first song and dance routine in the opening minutes of the film, to the scene at a party where Sebastian plays in an eighties band (the funniest bit of the film) to the "Sliding Doors" scenario at the end of the film, this is pure entertainment.
It also has some not so subtle digs at a lot of Hollywood norms.
On the second viewing, a couple of things still irked me - particularly as to why Mia was driving a Prius. It just didn't ring true.
The rest of the film, is just magic.
Some will call this self-indugent Hollywood claptrap. Some will criticise Stone and Gosling's singing and dancing - which I found perfectly charming. (The singing has an air of "Buffy the Musical" about it)
Me, I think it's just wonderful. In a world that's going to the dogs, it's great to see something happy, light, colourful and fun for a change.