After such a rough year, 2016 needed La La Land. As a year that has served beyond its fair share of upsets and disheartening moments, the modern romance that is set to clean up this coming award season, is a welcomed and wonderful distraction.
The film directed by Whiplash’s Damien Chazelle is the ultimate escape. Set in the dream-seeking capital, the metropolis of Los Angeles, Emma Stone plays aspiring actress Mia, while Ryan Gosling is passionate but struggling jazz musician Sebastian.
The expected happens and the starry-eyed pair fall in love but have to deal with all the personal and professional intricacies of Hollywood, which threatens to tear them apart.
From the jarring cold open musical number, you’d be forgiven for searching for the cinemas escape route. We dive straight into a sing-along in the midst of an LA traffic jam, drivers jump atop their cars singing and swinging; it quickly calls for the viewer to adapt to a much more musical universe.
But luckily for La La Land, the movie isn’t just a chorus line- it’s a modern musical that stands apart because it somehow feels very grounded in reality, grounded in 2016.
The movie musicals to come out the other side of the 21st century have been a mixed bag. There’s the rare exceptions that worked – like Chicago and Moulin Rouge – and the rest that were just painful, like the cringeable Hairspray, Sweeney Todd and many (and I mean, many) more.
Most of these films dance across the fine line between being a musical in a motion picture (like Les Miserables or Dreamgirls) or a musically inclined film, and this is where La La Land taps its foot. It’s not a musical in the strictest sense but rather has music and lyrics stitched into the fabric of the film. The music acts as both emotional and plot-driven signposts, directing the story.
If all musicals were like this, they might be more palatable to the common film-goer. This kind of modern and original musical could be where the industry is heading.
Of course the main allure of the film is the delightful and always catchy songs, composed by Justin Hurwitz. Uniquely both nostalgic but oddly contemporary, the moody and melancholy duet ‘City of Stars’ is an entrancing anthem, while Stone performance of ‘Audition (The Fools Who Dream)’ transported the audience to a more hopeful time.
There is a surrealist element to the film that could read as contrived but instead was rather charming, with dreamscape sequences of the couple floating above in the stars, adding to the Hollywood fantasy. The film’s title working twofold, as LA being a place the couple inhabit and the state of mind Mia and Sebastian must eventually leave and float back down to earth.
Despite some critics claims, the film’s not perfect, there’s inconsistencies and recurring plot points that heal to clichés – a struggling actor, and a musician selling out – but in the realm of the nostalgia centred La La Land, cliché is right at home and seems befitting. It may not be a masterpiece, but it’s a refreshing and unabashed joy-filled escape, and after such a woeful year, there is nothing wrong with that.
La La Land will be released in Australian cinemas on 26 December.