BFI #LFF 2016: LA LA LAND Film Review


Damien Chazelle breathes new life into the Hollywood musical with the bright and playful LA LA LAND

At the tender age of 31, Damien Chazelle has already established himself as a visionary. After wowing audiences with the sensational WHIPLASH back in 2014, the young director continues to innovate and push the boundaries of music and storytelling with his latest film LA LA LAND.

Based on the classic Hollywood musicals of the 1940s and 50s, LA LA LAND tells the story of struggling jazz pianist Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) and aspiring actress Mia (Emma Stone) who fall in love while pursuing their dreams in Los Angeles. Both are on their own paths of discovery – Sebastian wants to open his own club to ‘save jazz’ while Mia dreams of becoming a Hollywood star – but as success mounts, the couple’s relationship begins to crack under the pressure and the dreams they worked so hard to maintain start to drift off into the night.

From the opening scene in which a traffic jam turns into an all singing, all dancing extravaganza, to the unexpected but beautiful ending in a smoky jazz bar in downtown LA, every scene in LA LA LAND is a feast for the senses. In a cinematic world where sequels and superhero movies reign at the box office, Chazelle’s film is a breath of fresh air, breathing new life into Hollywood, as well as the musical genre. The writing is sharp and witty, the sets are colourful and magical, even the musical score is energetic, warm and infectious.

Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone are simply sparkling in the lead roles as Sebastian and Emma, dancing and singing their way into our hearts. The love scenes between the couple flow with ease and although their voices aren’t as melodious as Broadway professionals, their passion, chemistry and expert comic timing more than picks up the slack.

Chazelle’s camerawork is also a dream to watch with the young director making the most of LA’s sprawling landscapes, vibrant colours and stunning sunsets. From the long continuous shots which pull out to reveal the full choreography to the focused close-ups in which the streetlights work as spotlights, every shot is deliberately placed to deliver an emotional, nostalgic and visually beautiful film that has a heart as big as its Cinemascope screen.

A special mention also must go to composer Justin Hurwitz and lyricists Benj Pasek and Justin Paul whose beautiful soundtrack ignites a level of nostalgia and perfectly compliments the absorbing narrative.

Whether you’re a fan of movie musicals or not, LA LA LAND is a bright and playful romantic musical that is well worth your time. Technicolor escapism doesn’t come much better than this!

5 out of 5 stars

LA LA LAND makes its Headline Gala at the 60th BFI London Film Festival on 7 October and is released in UK cinemas on 13 January.