La La Land (2016) – Damien Chazelle

From its opening, marrying classical screen musical tropes and modern times, Chazelle’s film proves that not only is the big screen musical still alive, it is in fact a vibrant event.

Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling star as two Hollywood dreamers, Mia and Sebastian. She’s an aspiring actress, he’s a jazz pianist who dreams of owning THE jazz club. Through song  (written by Justin Hurwitz, Benj Pasek and Justin Paul) and dance (choreography by Mandy Moore), we live their tale.

The film keeps within the parameters of the traditional screen musical, while playing and twisting them on their head. The movie is well aware of its aspirations and its history. The story and its stars are surrounded with classic images of Tinsel Town and its denizens. The narrative takes us on an emotional journey with earned moments and songs that resonate within the chambers of the heart.

Filled with colourful images, primary colours popping off the screen, interweaving with the strains of ballads and showstoppers, we follow Seb and Mia through musical numbers and possibilities as the two fall in love and push one another to follow their dreams.

Both Stone and Gosling are incredibly likeable in their roles, moving easily around and with each other as they croon and dance. They are completely at ease with the emotional arcs of the story and their characters as well as the physical demands placed on them by the choreography.

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They both look great as their costume designs reflect the styles of the ’40s and ’50s, the heyday of the big screen musical. In fact the entire film has Art Deco influences and swathes itself in the magic and illusion of film – the land of dreams.

This was a delightful film, and a joy to see on the big screen. It managed to be both nostalgic and something entirely new at the same time. Everything comes together in the perfect storm of what will no doubt be a major Oscar contender.

Love, dreams, illusion, possibilities, these are arguably the basis of some of the greatest musicals to have ever graced the screen or  come to life in community theatre, and they are all on fine display here.

La La Land is a celebration of the musical (and all that jazz) and shows us that it is not a dying film genre, it was just waiting to tell the right story. It is a wonderful, exactingly created film with nods to the movies it pays homage to as well as creating new ionic moments that will be added to the pantheon of classic musicals.

This was a great way to start 2017, and this early in the year, I can say it’s my favourite of the year as well.

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