“Maybe it means something?”
It’s been hard to ignore all of the praise dumped on Damien Chazelle’s La La Land over recent weeks. Awards and acclaim, both professional and casual, have given even the most strong-minded onlooker some kind of preconceived affection for the glittery musical. Well, whatever mental picture you have, it probably isn’t enough.
La La Land is a gorgeous, romantic, opulent jaunt down memory lane. As Damien Chazelle’s Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, Stone and Gosling walk the same streets as the real pair, draped in the neon glow of opportunity. As they sway, tap and flutter across the screen, it is easy to see the rose-tint; Chazelle is infatuated with the optimism and escapism of old Hollywood, and indulgently lets himself bask in its warm glow. The music swells and swoons, picking you up with joy and dropping you back down with slices of soft-boiled realism. It embraces happiness for grief’s sake, and absorbs the pain to appreciate the highs. Just like in Whiplash, life’s struggle is Chazelle’s real focus.
Whilst Gosling waxes lyrical on just how exciting jazz is, it feels like Chazelle is also talking about the journey to success, realized or otherwise. Stone and Gosling’s relationship is wildly romantic, but La La Land focuses its affection on life itself. When success arrives for the pair, it is still the struggle that is remembered, the hard-work, as Stone writes, the “labour of love”, which keeps the cogs turning. The walls of her humble, shared flat are painted in bright, block colours, just as in The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, and so are the technicolor dresses of her and her hopeful roommates. Even in the sun-kissed opening song, commuters find happiness in a traffic jam. Foolish fiction it may be, but this is Chazelle’s extravagant love letter to life.
His Hollywood is a dreamland, home to these fools. His fools, Stone and Gosling, may not be Bogart and Bergman, but they are wonderfully choreographed and feel human, with trips and imperfections encouraged. The pair are amazing individuals, and complement each other without ever being dependent on the other, as characters or actors. The pair’s utter devotion to the film is plain to see; Stone moves with a charm and fluidity that only comes through dedication, whilst Gosling’s piano handi-work was so good that Chazelle had to let his hand double go.
This world and its dreamers would be nothing without the magical, joyful, infectious score from Justin Hurwitz. Its wistful spirit puts you under a spell, one that’ll rotate several songs in your head like an old-school jukebox. John Legend’s revamped jazz attack is a smash, progressing traditions, and though City of Stars is the film’s starry-eyed heartbeat, the musical accompaniment to the pair’s observatory adventure is the real delight. It is so good that it excuses the generous floating amongst the stars.
Last night, I struggled to fall asleep. La La Land had me singing on my pillow, dreaming of Another Day of Sun. Whilst I woke up to snow instead, Damien Chazelle’s unaltered dream had left me with a wide smile and a happy song. People love things that are made by passionate people, and that’s a big reason why I adore Whiplash, and have fallen head-over-tap-shoes for La La Land.
Images courtesy of slashfilm and New York Times respectively.