Its safe to say I’ve been waiting for this film for my whole entire life.
I got up & put to the first screening of la la land thus morning, with my new red hair & a yellow shirt. I have to admit, I was apprehensive. I feared that it wouldn’t live up to the hype for me personally & that I would be left disappointed – but it truly is magnificent.
It’s the second masterpiece film written & directed by Damien Chazelle, after his first mass success with 2014’s Whiplash. Let me tell you, Chazelle is going to be a filmmaker celebrated for decades to come & In fifty years people will be buying boxsets of his classics. Emma Stone & Ryan Gosling star, with music by Justin Hurwitz. The film follows Mia & Sebastian, two people with dreams living in LA & struggling to make it. It’s a love story that’s more so about their passions & their dreams than actually about them as a couple, following their separate & conjoined lives over the course of a year initially.
Emma Stone shines as Mia. I have nothing but respect for this actress – she has never been anything but charming, talented, sweet & nothing short of lovable. Mia seems tailor made for her – sweet, determined, vulnerable, loving & passionate. She’s either jumping in head first or holding herself back.
Ryan Gosling is incredible as Sebastian. He’s moody, he’s sentimental, caring, passionate & forever dreaming. He sets goals with no compromise, which is admirable but often unrealistic. The best demonstration of his character is when he plays – he is overwhelmingly passionate & it’s impossible not to be in awe.
Their chemistry is phenomenal. This is the third collaboration between Stone & Gosling because everyone can see they just fit together so effortlessly & convincingly. Their playfulness with each other is visible & makes the characters tangible.
The parts were originally going to be played by Emma Watson & Miles Teller, & although I do admire each of those actors, the film really would not be what it is without Stone & Gosling at the front. Chazelle actually upped the age of the two characters to have them played by Emma & Ryan, which I think does work way better than having two people in their early twenties. The older age feels more honest, that people around their thirties in LA don’t magically have their life sorted out.
The setting of LA is also a hugely important part of the story. The film revolves around it, is a love letter to it – Hollywood is notoriously brutal & painful, but equally magical & beautiful & unlike any other place. People who have the dreams that Seb & Mia do are not immune to the struggles, just willing to take them on because of the glimmer of hope that the city can bring – Chazelle describes it as “something very poetic about the city I think, about a city that is built by people with these unrealistic dreams and people who kind of just put it all on the line for that.” Los Angeles is very much a character in itself in the film, & so La La Land is shot solely on location, visiting over sixty LA locations like the Griffith Park Observatory, the Rialto Theatre, houses in the Hollywood Hills, Colorado Street Bridge, South Pasadena, Grand Central Market, Hermosa Beach, Watts Tower & Angels Flight – the last which was actually reopened specially for the films use after it closed in 2013.
As I said, it’s a love letter to Los Angeles but it shows the realities of it – the entire opening number is set in a traffic buildup on a highway, with the city in the background & the song Another Day of Sun telling us exactly what this film’s attitude to this Hollywood “La La Land” is: you may be broke, & you may be turned away from everything, but it’s a place that inspires enough hope that every day is just another day of sun. I LOVE IT.
The supporting cast includes John Legend as Keith, a musician, & Rosemarie DeWitt as Seb’s sister. They’re both added little extras that fill the gaps in the film perfectly with brilliant & effortless performances from each.
The storyline & script really excels. The film is told in five acts: Winter, Spring, Summer, Autumn & another Winter. Chazelle actually wrote the screenplay back in 2010, where he struggled to find anyone willing to make his project a reality. It was only after the success of Whiplash that he was able to gain interest in it, which led to it finally being made in the summer of 2015, with an editing process that lasted a year. The dedication & passion put into the project is more than evident, & is definitely what makes it so gorgeous to watch.
Some people have said that the middle act feels a little bit less brilliant then the outstanding bookends of the first & final acts, but I thought that was the point? It was the point in the story where the characters became disillusioned with their glitzy LA dreams & the film was a direct representation of that. It was the lull, where characters doubted themselves & things fell apart, before things got picked up again.
I saw one review in which the critic claimed that the film was a poor representation of women, saying that Mia was taught & driven by the male character Sebastian. I totally disagree with this, & I’m pretty sure it was just someone trying to find an original point that would make people read their work. Mia is an individual with a drive & a passion to do what she’s trying to do, but she constantly doubts her ability. Sebastian is the person stood by her side, constantly assuring her that yes – she can do it, because she is brilliant. He gives her not only the assurance & the push to do what he know she can do on her own, but provides the support for her at the same time, which is exactly what Mia does for Sebastian in return.
It’s not a poor representation for someone, it’s an amazing representation of a supportive relationship.
The cinematography & editing is awe inspiring. As an example of how beautifully this film is shot, the entire opening musical number was shot in one take. ONE TAKE. It features about two hundred cars & as many people singing & dancing & I’ll be honest, it made me cry. It was so technically stunning yet full of life . Choreographer Mandy Moore described it as “Birman meets Singin’ in the Rain” (I’ll talk more about the choreography in a bit).
The so called “prius” scene set to A Lovely Night was also one, long six minute take. It floors me. There are no words -it’s just incredible.
The planetarium sequence was as surreal as it was wonderful, such a beautiful depiction of the magical moment when a relationship starts. Another part that stood out for me was the scene were Mia was dancing to Sebastian playing in a club – the way the camera swung between he two of them, & how they were separate yet so connected & full of life & so in love was brilliant.
All these long, sweeping & intense singular takes are dramatically contrasted against quick splices & cuts that creates a perfect atmosphere for each environment they enter. Drinks are poured, instruments are set up etc etc, all put together in tiny moments to immediately bring you into the setting.
I love love loved the cardboard cutout old-Hollywood style sequences. It felt so magical, so in sync with classic old Hollywood musicals from the thirties & forties – & did anybody spot that Audrey Hepburn reference with Mia holding balloons?
Of course it goes without saying that the soundtrack is incredible. It’s old school musical numbers & jazz with a modern update & it’s gorgeous. It fit so well with the old school style yet the modern context of the film & it stays stuck in your head.
The songs and score were composed & orchestrated by Justin Hurwitz, friend & old classmate of Chazelle. The two worked together back in 2010 when the screenplay was being written & so the music came with the story very much hand in hand. Lyrics are by the successful musical theatre composing team Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, & all elements just slot together so seamlessly it’s evident that the entire team was completely on the same wavelength.
I can’t decide which song is my favourite? All of them have such different feelings. Another Day of Sun & Someone in the Crowd make me want to get up & dance; A Lovely Night makes me melt; City of Stars & Audition make my heart hurt & my eyes water, & the Epilogue is equally beautifully & painful to listen to. I think Audition (The Fools Who Dream) is the one that resonates with me so much, & it leaves me in tears every time. Emma Stone’s performance is heart stopping.
And by the way, yes – that is Ryan Gosling playing the piano himself. They’d planned for CGI but he managed to commit to learning to play so intently that he picked it up fast enough for the majority of what you see on screen to be him. As if he couldn’t get more dreamy.
Lets talk choreography, because OH MY GOD Mandy Moore is incredible. The sheer amount of work that went into the opening number! The FOOTWORK in A Lovely Night! It was so playful & imperfect & that’s exactly what made it perfect. Emotion was prioritised over technique & that’s a move that is so rarely respected – obviously the two actors aren’t experienced or trained dancers & Moore really understood that & celebrated it. Whilst the dance in A Lovely Night was so passionate & full of life, the simple elegant waltz’s in the Planetarium scene were so beautiful to watch, & in the silhouette sequence set to the Epilogue the dancing was incredible to watch.
The costume is beautiful. It perfectly describes characters, moods, the story & I am again left in awe of Mary Zophres’ work. To prepare, she watched classic Hollywood movies the likes of Singin’ in the Rain & The Bandwagon; & more recent ones like Romeo + Juliet & Catch Me If You Can to grasp the idea of those classic movie costumes that are beautiful & aesthetically perfect for the film . She compared these to modern photography & fashions & created costume ideas in just a few days, which she then worked with the director to perfect. The use of bright colours in large group numbers is very reminiscent of the Gotta Dance sequence in Singin’ in the Rain & it just feels so beautifully like an old film.
The main focus of the costumes was for audiences to “be wooed” by Ryan, & to “feel romantic” about Emma. It’s a nostalgic yet updated take on the simplicity of old Hollywood musicals & it works perfectly.
I adored it. The only problem I could possibly have with it was that in one scene, Mia’s red bag suddenly becomes yellow but other than that – perfect.
It felt irrationally personal. It feels personally made for people wanting that dream. Hollywood is a mad, heartbreaking, soul destroying world that could easily kill you, but for some reason it would kill you not to do it. It resonated with me on such a personal level, & gave me every kind of emotion under the sun. I can’t stop thinking about it.
And you bet your ass I wrote this entire post listening to the soundtrack.
La La Land is in cinemas worldwide now.