In 2014, a young director named Damien Chazelle burst onto the scene with the brilliant, Whiplash. Whiplash is one of those rare films that impresses you on first sight but also reveals new ideas and snippets with every new viewing. It’s now a little over two years later and Chazelle has cemented himself as one of the best directors currently working with his new musical, La La Land. La La Land will struggle to have the same level of re-watch-ability factor that Whiplash does, but it has a visual splendor to it that is hard to ignore. Additionally, the film does a fantastic job of creating a fun atmosphere while never focusing on its style so much that the substance gets left behind.
La La Land follows an aspiring actress (Emma Stome) and a down on his luck jazz musician (Ryan Gosling) as their paths continue to cross in present day Los Angeles. The film is a musical, and it’s a musical from beginning to end. This is certainly a film that won’t be criticized for forgetting that’s a musical midway through (which it seems is a common complaint of many musicals nowadays). The story is somewhat conventional. The basic description of the plot, no doubt, makes it seem that way. However, there is some interesting material about trying to achieve your dreams and trying to maintain your social life (a topic that was also covered in some ways in Whiplash) that makes the plot standout. The only downside to the plot is that it concludes in what is a dazzling yet somewhat slight final set piece, and that’s because the concept used for the set piece is something that was used before and to better effect in the indie romance drama, (500) Days of Summer).
These small issues are for the most part covered up by a colorful visual palate, a soundtrack that is quite memorable (the catchy “Start a Fire”, the underrated “Someone in the Crowd”, and the emotional “Audition (The Fools Who Dream” being the highlights), and two strong performances at the center of the film. Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling are quickly becoming one of the most interesting sets of co-stars since Olivia de Havilland and Errol Flynn. They have great chemistry together (and never more so than here), but both make individual achievements out of their performances. Stone has never delivered such a raw performance, and Gosling continues an impressive string of performances that have shown him to be quite possibly the most charismatic actor working today.
La La Land is a reminder that there is still room for fun in a genre as overdone as the musical.