Ryan Gosling continues to be something of a renaissance man having been viciously brutal in ‘Driver’, dramatically challenging in ‘The Ides of March’, hilariously comic in ‘The Nice Guys’ and now shows that he’s an old school song and dance man in the musical ‘La La Land’ which has director Damien Chazelle bringing an Oscar friendly film to the world’s attention. And boy does the Academy love to reward a musical if the Oscar winning ‘The Artist’ and ‘Chicago’ are anything to go by in previous years. Though Chazelle made the superb, ‘Whiplash’ with a blistering performance from JK Simmons (winning him a best supporting actor Oscar) which, though about a drummer in an orchestra, was not really a musical in the traditional sense and this leaves out the horror of a tyrannical Simmons for an out and out traditional Hollywood girl meets boy romantic love story. Yet it hardly starts out that way with its opening scene set in the mother of all traffic jams which, unlike 1993’s Michael Douglas starrer ‘Falling Down’ doesn’t degenerate into all out carnage, choosing instead a stunning song and dance routine apparently shot in one take (though if you look hard enough the edit points are obvious enough). It’s here that an impatient Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) first encounters aspiring actress Mia (Emma Stone)and vents his frustration at her driving using less than gracious gestures yet from the off you know they’re paths are bound to cross again soon.
Mia balances her work in a studio’s coffee shop whilst auditioning whenever she can whilst he’s an earnest jazz musician forced to pay music he regards as below him. It’s at a party where they next meet as he plays for pay in an 80’s synth tribute act with an over eager singer blasting out Norwegian power pop combo ,A-HA’s greatest hit. It’s been a while since haircut horrors, ‘A Flock of Seagulls have had their music in a film and here she deliberately torments him by requesting the band play their hit, ‘I Ran’ much to the singers delight but Goslings contempt. From her playful antagonism their romance begins set against their individual struggle to achieve success in their respective fields and the trials and tribulations of their quest for success impacts on their love.
At its core this is a traditional love story and it borrows one of Tarantino’s favourite story devices , the chapter heading, but here splits the films into seasons (Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter etc). What lifts this are the two leads with Gosling turning out to be a revelation when it comes to song and dance especially in a roadside sequence which will only provoke envy from others that there seems to be little that he can’t turn his hand to and master. Stone too continues her ascent having left the Spiderman franchise behind and her unfeasibly huge eyes easily convey every tumultuous emotion as seen in a brutal audition scene. Credit too to director Damian Chazelle who pulls off the musical set pieces with aplomb throwing in complex shots for the sheer fun of it all – the opening single shot musical number, a song and dance scene in a shared apartment, and a shot where a character dives into a pool followed by a camera dipping below the water surface whilst still maintaining focus. This is only his fourth film and is reminder of what the early films of Paul Thomas Anderson were like in so far as you can’t wait to see what his next film will be.
Bright, breezy and brilliant we’d go as far to say that it’s probably going to be this year’s Best Film Oscar winner.
Here’s the trailer…….