By Adam Ray Palmer
Day one of Venezia73 is upon us and that means it is the turn of Damien Chazelle’s La La Land as the opening night gala this evening.
I had the chance, with every other critic on the Lido island, to see it earlier today. The film stars Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone in the titular roles.
La La Land is definitely one to look out for going forward into award season…
La La Land tells a classic tale of Sebastian (Gosling) who is a jazz pianist struggling with his professional career. Like Seb, Mia (Stone) is also finding it hard to make ends meet as an aspiring actress. Their stories entwine in the city of Los Angeles where they slowly begin to fall for one another.
We begin with a spectacular opening that’s all singing and all dancing whilst hundreds of commuters are stuck in traffic, two of those commuters are Sebastian and Mia. Once this impressive introduction climaxes, and met with applause here in Venice, the real story can begin.
We quickly learn that both protagonists are struggling with their dreams. Failed auditions and after auditions for Mia and Seb is barely making enough money from a restaurant, ran by J. K. Simmons, to pay his bills. After a chance meeting in the traffic jam at the opening, Seb and Mia begin a friendship that is built on gentle ribbing and casual flirting.
The scenes between the starring duo really elevate La La Land. Their chemistry is formidable which dates back to Crazy Stupid Love around seven years ago. The humour from Gosling is very dry with lines of “if you put your car keys to your head, you will get cancer but you’ll find your car quicker, kinda evens itself out”. Stone brings innocence to the film that so many movies like this have relied on before, but she also has an edge to her that Chazelle carves out in his writing expertly. I asked Emma after the film what viewers, especially the younger generation trying to crack Hollywood, should take away from the film; she replied:
“I hope young people watching La La Land take away the feeling of letting go of cynicism. The film is all about dreaming and hoping and the youth of today need to keep that dearly”.
I have stated in the past that I have been sceptical about Gosling but with The Nice Guys and now La La Land, he’s definitely winning me over. His Sebastian is a very complex role and he had my buy-in from scene one. I think he takes this film from Stone. Ironically, as Rebel Without a Cause is mentioned, he kind of has a James Dean feel to his performance. Don’t get me wrong, Stone is also on top form here. Her singing sequences evoke memories that you once had of your own dreams and they make you feel, just for those brief minutes, that it could have easily be you crooning about missed opportunities.
The whimsical style to the shooting makes the movie glide across the screen with utter delight. The scenes seem to roll so poetically, it’s a beautiful film to watch in a cinema. There are a few standout sequences where the colours are so vivid and dreamy that you have goose bumps rippling down your neck and arms. I asked Damien about why he chose to depict modern day LA to be very dreamy in the first act but a lot more rustic in the second, he commented:
“There’s something about the loneliness of LA. There are quite a few bad things of LA that a lot films gloss over. We wanted to write a love letter to LA but a true one. Things like traffic and the overzealous parties are ridiculous, but there’s something poetic about it.”
This brings me nicely onto a star of tomorrow. Damien Chazelle will soon be a household name in the world of directing and writing. He’s already had critical success with Whiplash, our film of 2014, and now La La Land will project him further. He has once again delivered on the big screen, but this time with even bigger expectations. I would assume some big-wigs of Hollywood would have expected a potential fall with this move but the only fall anyone will be doing is in love.
Cineroom’s Rating: 5 Stars
La La Land is released in the UK on 13th January 2016 – certificate TBC