La La Land: The Best film of 2016


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A jazz pianist falls for an aspiring actress in Los Angeles. (IMDB synopsis)

When I initially left the theatre, I struggled to describe in words the mesmerising nature of director Damien Chazelle’s third feature-length film “La La Land”. Whereas I have never been an avid follower or fan of the musical genre, I’ve also never been opposed to it; whilst I find joy in classics such as “The Nightmare Before Christmas” and “The Lion King”, I have found that more contemporary attempts to be contrived, as they fail to recapture the magic of the genre. For instance, movies like “Frozen”, “Les Miserables” and to some extent “Sweeney Todd”, although critically acclaimed, I could never really describe these films without using the word ‘underwhelming’.

This is where Chazelle arrives on set, by reintroducing our love for films under the music genre: whilst movies like “Grand Piano” and “Whiplash”, didn’t exactly involve a cast of people breaking into song and dance, they demonstrated that musical performances can be effectively incorporated into a film’s plot and characterisation whilst also conforming to the more realistic element that audiences crave. Furthermore, Chazelle’s little-known debut feature film “Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench” revealed a passion for the artistic aspect of music, that has perhaps been forgotten in the grand landscape of film. With this guy’s impressive filmography up until this point, there was no question that I greatly anticipated his next project, “La La Land”.

This film reignited a passion within me for not only musicals, but also the enjoyment of music, more specifically jazz. This passion is also reflected within the characters of Sebastian (Ryan Reynolds) and Mia (Emma Stone). The audience first glances upon this vibrant world through the opening number “Another Day Of Sun”, which is particularly bright, energetic and hopeful for future prospects, as if to say the sunrise presents limitless opportunities to seize – optimistic to say the least. However, this is juxtaposed with the immediate traffic jam that forms the background during and after this musical number. It is later revealed that both Mia & Sebastian are stuck in traffic together, which is clearly a reflection of their careers at this point in life, with Mia as an aspiring actress and Sebastian as a traditional jazz musician hoping to share his passion in order to save the legacy of jazz.

the dank jazz

Also, it is important to note that both these aspirations derive from the heart; they only pursuit these passions from a genuine love of what they do. Whilst this is entirely relatable to anyone who hopes to accomplish anything, I feel as if they are more specifically tailored to the current film and music industry; both of which form a barrier opposing Mia & Sebastian respectively – as Mia struggles to get her big break as she partakes in auditions with shallow and unserious studios who are just looking for the ‘hottest’ girl to hire. Whereas Sebastian more explicitly wishes to revive a community which appreciates the raw and spontaneity of classic jazz music, however is forever at odds with the modern music industry; where success is achieved through attempts to modernise and appeal to the widest range of people possible.

When examined separately, these characters are extremely likable and watchable, with their authentic love for their craft making interesting stories on their lonesome. However, together the relationship between Mia and Sebastian presents a whole new depth to their struggle – not only is their chemistry and love engaging enough, but also their ability to bring out the best in each other in relation to their respective passions transcends far past your typical onscreen romance. This is highlighted by the lack of onscreen sex – although sex is often used in a movie in order to emphasise an emotional bond or development within a relationship; “La La Land” instead presents an emotional connection/development between characters as accompaniment to the passions of jazz and acting; whether it be through taking an interest in one another’s passions and dreams, or the engaging interactions conveyed through singing and dancing. This multilayered and interwoven aspect of the narrative presents interesting and organic troubles, that are not always resolved in an expected way, but are satisfying nonetheless.

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Now that we’re more than halfway through the review, you’re probably wondering when I’m going to discuss the more technical elements of the film, of which the visuals in terms of lighting, cinematography and the musical aspects relating to the score and soundtrack are particularly noteworthy. Firstly, the cinematography is gorgeous, whether it attempts to portray the musical energy in a visual way or make complex long shot takes in which to accompany the excellently choreographed dancing – there is not a single wasted shot in this film. Also, the lighting is spectacular as well in not only portraying emotions visually, but for instance the pure beauty of the horizon in some scenes is just the icing on the cake in the creation of this completely an utterly mesmerising experience.

Of course, I cannot write an entire review on “La La Land” without expressing my amazement of the songs throughout – all of which are purposeful and completely relevant in unravelling the plot and characters. Without spoiling the experience, I believe that this is one of those soon to be classic soundtracks in which every song resonates with me in some way. After seeing this film I could not stop listening to the soundtrack, with repeated listens revealing subtle details connecting the individual songs together, such as the re-use of melodies in multiple songs which are somehow presented in very distinct ways.

Also, I feel at this point it also goes without saying that the acting does not miss a beat, Ryan Reynolds and Emma Stone are endlessly watchable as mains, with of course a more cameo role from J.K. Simmons being extremely fitting, moreover a surprisingly good and fitting performance from singer John Legend. The acting was so seamless and natural at all stages that it never really came into question in my mind; which I suppose is a further testament to Damien Chazelle’s ever evolving skills as an upcoming mastermind director.

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Although, there’s much more to be said about Chazelle’s “La La Land”, I do not wish to spoil this experience for anyone – I’ll just have to assure you that this guy sure knows how to end a movie, with of course this film and “Whiplash” supporting that.

To conclude, while several films have captivated me all throughout 2016 – namely “Tickled”, “The Neon Demon”, “Arrival”, “Nocturnal Animals”, “Patterson” and more, I believe at this stage that “La La Land” stands above them all as it remains consistently on my mind on an emotional and intellectual level. Perhaps this is due to me personally connecting with the film’s various messages. Regardless, I feel whatever your opinion on musicals are, at least see Chazelle’s masterpiece as one of the best examples to date, before you truly make up your mind on the genre. Because no matter where you lie, I guarantee that “La La Land” will inevitably resonate with you and prove to be charming experience in one way or another.

10/10

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