I had the chance, with every other critic on the Lido island, to see La La Land, starring Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone – and it’s definitely one to look out for going into award season.
La La Land tells the tale of Sebastian (Gosling), a jazz pianist struggling with his professional career, and aspiring actress Mia (Stone) who is also finding it hard to make ends meet. Their stories entwine in the city of Los Angeles where they slowly begin to fall for one another.
We begin with a spectacular opening that’s all singing and all dancing while hundreds of commuters are stuck in traffic; two of those commuters are Sebastian and Mia. Once this impressive introduction climaxes – and it was met with applause here in Venice – the real story can begin.
We quickly learn that both protagonists are struggling with their dreams. For Mia it’s one failed audition after another, while Seb is barely making enough money from a restaurant (run by J. K. Simmons) to pay his bills. After a chance meeting in the traffic jam at the opening, Seb and Mia begin a friendship that is built on gentle ribbing and casual flirting.
The scenes between the duo really elevate La La Land; their formidable chemistry dates back to Crazy Stupid Love around seven years ago. The humour from Gosling is very dry, with lines like “if you put your car keys to your head, you will get cancer but you’ll find your car quicker, kinda evens itself out”. Stone brings an innocence to the film, but she also has an edge to her that Chazelle brings out expertly in his writing. After the screening I asked Emma what viewers, especially the younger generation trying to crack Hollywood, should take away from the film. She replied:
“I hope young people watching La La Land take away the feeling of letting go of cynicism. The film is all about dreaming and hoping and the youth of today need to keep that dearly.”
I have previously been sceptical about Gosling but with The Nice Guys and now La La Land, he’s definitely winning me over. His Sebastian is a very complex role and he had my buy-in from scene one. He has a kind of James Dean feel to his performance, ironic as Rebel Without a Cause is mentioned. I think Gosling takes this film from Stone, but don’t get me wrong – Stone is also on top form. Her singing sequences evoke memories that you once had of your own dreams and they make you feel, just for those brief minutes, that it could easily have been you crooning about missed opportunities.
The whimsical style makes the movie glide across the screen with utter delight. The scenes seem to roll so poetically, it’s a beautiful film to watch in a cinema. There are a few standout sequences where the colours are so vivid and dreamy that you have goosebumps down your neck and arms. I asked Damien about why he chose to depict modern day LA in such a dreamy way in the first act, but a lot more rustic in the second. He commented:
“There’s something about the loneliness of LA. There are bad things about LA that a lot films gloss over. We wanted to write a love letter to LA, but a true one. Things like traffic and the overzealous parties are ridiculous, but there’s something poetic about it.”
This brings me nicely onto a star of tomorrow; Damien Chazelle will soon be a household name in the world of directing and writing. He’s already had critical success with Whiplash, our film of 2014, and now La La Land will project him further. He has once again delivered on the big screen, but this time with even bigger expectations. I would assume some Hollywood big-wigs would have expected a potential fall with this movie, but the only falling anyone will be doing is in love.
Cineroom’s rating: 5 Stars
La La Land is released in the UK on 13 Jan 2017, certificate TBC
Watch the official trailer
Read more of Adam Ray Palmer’s reviews at Cineroom.co.uk