Shivers running up and down your spine? Vision blurred by excessive tears in your eyes? Heart beating a little faster than usual? Face set in an almost painful, rictus grin? Don’t worry. You don’t need to see your GP or visit A&E. Don’t worry, you’re not ill, my diagnosis is that you’ve just been to see the wonderful La La Land, is all (unless you haven’t, in which case seek medical advice immediately) and the only thing you can do is turn around and go see it again. Straight away. You need this movie in your life as soon as possible.
It’s the story of two Los Angeles dreamers who have stalled out on ways to achieve their ambitions: Mia (Emma Stone) is an aspiring actress working as a barista on the Warner Bros. lot, attending endless, humiliating auditions and always an arm’s length from success; Sebastien (Ryan Gosling) is a wildly talented musician whose commitment to his art in its purest form keeps him from success and his ultimate goal of opening his own jazz club. As their paths begin to cross (in classic Golden-Age Hollywood fashion) they can’t stand one another, but slowly their antagonistic, spiky conversations become more playful and less snarky and infatuation begins to take root between the two. And infatuation, as we all know, is just a small step from love if only we are brave (or foolish) enough to take it.
I’m trying to stay as far as possible from the dreaded spoiler territory here (I genuinely think this is a story you need to experience for yourself) but La La Land goes somewhere with this story where few other movies are brave enough to tread. It’s a romance that exists to inspire the protagonists, definitely, but is it a romance that’s strong enough to endure? Mia and Sebastien share the kind of chemistry that has all the hallmarks of an all-timer romance… if only they can understand what destiny is trying desperately to tell them.
I hope that doesn’t make the film sound like a bummer because it isn’t. It might not be what you expect, sure, but that’s a part of its wondrous joy. Gosling and stone (in their third film together) have such a natural, likeable chemistry that they recall the great Hollywood partnerships (Bogey and Bacall, Hepburn and Tracy, Fred and Ginger), they’re full of charm, wit, fun and occasional melancholy. There’s great support from the likes of John Legend and J.K. Simmons, but, really, it’s the central duo you’ve come to see and the central romance is the one you’ll find hard to forget.
Director Damien Chazelle (who made such an impact with the brilliant Whiplash) seems to be one of those movie literate young guns, like Quentin Tarantino and Jeremy Saulnier, who have the ability to throw their influences up there on the screen but make them fresh and new and relevant. I’ve seen a lot of articles saying La La Land is the direct descendent of some of the great MGM musicals like Singin’ In The Rain, Top Hat, It’s Always Fair Weather and The Band Wagon and, yes, the DNA of these movies is very much in there, but it’s much closer in tone to the Jacques Demy and Michel LeGrand classics Les Parapluies de Cherbourg (The Umbrellas of Cherbourg) and – the criminally underseen – Les Demoiselles de Rochefort (The Young Ladies of Rochefort) and there’s more than a touch of Francis Ford Coppola’s One From The Heart in there as well. Don’t worry if you haven’t seen any of these movies, La La Land is strong enough to stand by itself and is entirely its own thing, I mention them only because after seeing it you’ll be wanting to scratch that “They don’t make them like that anymore” itch and these are the movies they don’t make them like anymore. (The more adventurous of you might want to track down the incredible Corki Dancingu (The Lure), a Polish musical horror about a pair of man eating mermaids who become cabaret stars. Really).
From the very first scene you’ll know that you’re watching a classic. And the second. And the third. And… Honestly, there are so many moments which are absolute movie magic that a whole Summer of blockbuster movies will watch La La Land green with envy, wishing they’d had just one of those bits.
Even if you’re a dyed-in-the-wool cynic (actually, especially if you’re a dyed-in-the-wool cynic) I’d urge you to go experience La La Land, not just for the music and colour and joyous bombast but, you might just find, it has something interesting and relevant, even profound, to say about life and love and loss that will affect you and your own story. It might be going a little far if I were to claim La La Land has the power to thaw a frozen heart of fix a broken one but it probably has. It’s not just a movie for fans of Strictly Come Dancing, it’s a movie for all of us.
Here’s to the dreamers.