London Film Festival review: La La Land – tap-dances straight into the awards race
London Film Festival review: La La Land

Matthew Turner delivers his verdict on Damien Chazelle's La La Land, starring Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone

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Whiplash director Damien Chazelle returns with a jaw-dropping musical about a jazz pianist, who falls for an aspiring actress in modern-day Los Angeles

Director: Damien Chazelle.
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, John Legend, Rosemarie DeWitt, J.K. Simmons, Finn Wittrock, Meagan Fay
Genre: Musical
Country: USA
Release date: January 13, 2017
Cert: U (tbc)
Running time: 128 mins

Writer-director Damien Chazelle’s follow-up to his Oscar-nominated Whiplash (2014) is a delightful homage to classic Hollywood song and dance movies of the ’50s and ’60s.

However, rather than standing as an exercise in pure pastiche, La La Land strikes its own note – feeling fresh and modern even as it celebrates Hollywood’s heyday.

As such, the film pretty much tap-dances straight into the lead in the awards race for this year’s Best Picture Oscar.

A delight to watch

The film begins with a jaw-dropping single-take musical number set during a traffic jam on the Los Angeles freeway.

Caught up in the mayhem are aspiring actress Mia (Emma Stone) and jazz pianist Seb (Ryan Gosling), who later meet when she spots him playing piano (and getting fired, by J.K. Simmons in a fun cameo) at a restaurant.

They embark on a tentative romance and encourage each other to chase their dreams, but their relationship stumbles when Seb takes a job with a successful jazz-rock band who are always on tour.

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Gosling and Stone are a delight to watch, effortlessly tapping into the same off-the-scale chemistry they had together in Crazy, Stupid, Love.

Their first date musical number together in the Hollywood hills is utterly charming, with both actors busting out some old-school dance moves, while the songs are somehow rendered all the more endearing because neither of them have perfect singing voices.

Bittersweet edge

The script is achingly romantic, capturing the joy and the intensity of falling in love, but also acknowledging the compromises that have to be made in life with regard to personal happiness and career fulfilment.

This gives the film a bittersweet edge that carries powerful emotional resonance, while also paving the way for a masterstroke of direction and editing in the climax of the film that would be churlish to spoil here.

Working with cinematographer Linus Sandgren (who shot David O. Russell’s Joy) and choreographer Mandy Moore, Chazelle creates seamless transitions in the musical numbers, while the songs themselves are spell-binding, particularly Stone’s rendition of ‘Audition (The Fools Who Dream)’.

On a similar note, David Wasco’s colourful production design expertly evokes classic musicals, aided by some stunning costume designs by Mary Zophres.

Worth seeing?

Stylishly directed and beautifully acted by Stone and Gosling, this is a gorgeously romantic modern-day musical that will have you grinning from ear to ear.

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