Review: Hollywood magic thanks to shining stars in La La Land

Ryan Gosling as Sebastian Wilder and Emma Stone as Mia Dolan in La la Land. Picture Lionsgate

Ryan Gosling as Sebastian Wilder and Emma Stone as Mia Dolan in La la Land. Picture Lionsgate - Credit: Lionsgate

Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling steal the show with strong screen presence in a film too much fun for an Oscar.

La La Land (12A)


In my present, which is your past, the musical La La Land is the frontrunner to rule at next year's/this year's Oscars. I can't see that happening - it's too much fun and too lighthearted, a love story about a struggling jazz musician (Ryan Gosling) and an aspiring actress (Emma Stone) trying to follow their dreams. And though the Academy will try embrace the film as a celebration of Hollywood magic and the wonder of its illusions, they're bound to chicken out and find something weighty and dull to honour in its place.

La La Land is interesting in that it is built entirely from broken dreams; all the failed efforts, from big name directors to revitalise and reinvent the big screen musical, such as Coppola's One From The Heart, Bogdanovich's They All Laughed, Allen's Everybody Says I Love You or even James L. Brook's I'll Do Anything, which had all its musical numbers cut out before it was released.

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All these films tried to democratise the Hollywood musical, take it away from the hoofers and the jazz handers, the belters and bojangleurs, and make it a vehicle for the ordinary Joe, sometimes the ordinary Joe who couldn't sing or dance.

Now Gosling and Stone can sing and dance, but you can the effort it requires. Which may be the point: it's a film about people who want life to be a musical but aren't quite up to being in a musical.

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Director Damien Chazelle's debut jazz drumming boot camp drama Whiplash was kinetic and intense, fiercely controlled with vacuum packed editing. Here he shoots things in long floaty tracking shots, dissolves and uses lots of lens flare and green and blues to shoot a dream vision; its bright lights are join the dots approximation of the real Los Angeles.

The film opens with a big musical number set on clogged stationary freeway. It's a nod to the opening of Fellini's 8½ but as all these bright young thing start cavorting energetically around their stationary vehicles, the girls in short skirts that flash their sensible, sturdy Bucks Fizz dancer underpants, the choreography reminded of the dance numbers on Summertime Special.

There is a basic problem with La La Land. In theatre land there is a put down about musicals that audiences come out humming the sets and that is the case here: you come out humming the Steadicam shots. Everything here looks lovely but for a musical there isn't a single memorable song. Indeed, during the second half the film mostly lays off the songs.

La La Land is full of adventure and daring but ultimately what makes the film special is the oldest of Hollywood magic – stars. Gosling and Stone may not be able to do more than carry a tune and follow the steps to the dance routines with Strictly concentration, but their screen presence is so strong that it outweighs all objections.

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