This review was originally published during TIFF on September 8
Los Angeles, California: land of opportunities, crusher of dreams. It's the setting of director Damien Chazelle's latest movie La La Land, a modern day musical starring Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, who play a struggling actor and jazz musician, respectively, both with a penchant for timeless movies and music. Fans of Whiplash will probably hate it.
For all the awards and rave reviews it garnered, the Miles Teller-starring 2014 flick was fairly one-dimensional; as critic and cultural theorist Chuck Klosterman wrote in his 2016 book But What If We're Wrong?, Whiplash was really a sports movie dressed up to look like a jazz movie, the kind of film that only sociopaths who think the only path to perfection is through persistence and pain would seek pleasure from. Despite costing roughly six times the amount of money Chazelle's previous picture took to make and starting off with a dance sequence filmed on a blocked off L.A. freeway, La La Land is a far more human affair, despite all the glitz and glamour (and seemingly sinful setting).
If Chazelle's last film was like watching Buddy Rich live, La La Land is like listening to George Gershwin on your home stereo. It's a big, bold and beautiful production, certainly the most expressive and expansive of Chazelle's career, and the kind of movie Hollywood doesn't make anymore (i.e. unashamedly ambitious and charming), complete with dance routines, real romance and softly lit scenes on sound stages that look like they're straight out of a dream.
Nostalgia is the name of the game here, as both leads reflect on the better days of music and movies, as well as the fading landmarks of old Los Angeles — from the Griffith Observatory to the Rialto Theater — that only they seem to frequent. It's foreign and familiar at the same time, a cinematic achievement that's hard not to fall in love with.
Pick up the La La Land soundtrack on vinyl here. (eOne)