Film review: La La Land

David Gritten / 12 January 2017

It grabs your attention with its sheer verve, and never lets go, says our critic.

This brilliant film fantasy, invoking the great musicals of Hollywood's past, seems to be scooping up every award going -- and most critics firmly approve of it too.

I'd love to be contrary and find reason to fault it -- but that would be tough. From its first terrific scene - a huge dance sequence staged in a traffic jam on a Los Angeles freeway - it grabs your attention with its sheer verve, and never once lets go.

It's a love story between two very different people - Mia (Emma Stone), a serious-minded young woman trying to break into Hollywood as an actress, undergoing soul-destroying auditions to achieve her aim. But she ultimately wants to write stage dramas.

Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) is a musician with a romantic edge - he likes jazz, the way it used to be played in the 40s and 50s, and along with musical fame he wants to open a jazz club that showcases his kind of music.

Director Damien Chazelle tracks the story of these contrasting types, both aiming to make it in La La Land - the derisive nickname for Los Angeles. 

Their mutual attraction - after a huffy stand-off in that traffic jam - is underlined in a series of gorgeous dance sequences that really do evoke Hollywood's golden era. These actors are not quite Fred and Ginger, but they both dance rather well - and Chazelle has the sense to shoot them in full frame, rather than cutting in for close-ups.

Their singing is fine, if not outstanding, though Gosling's voice, though by no means perfect, has an appealing, yearning quality. Emma Stone, by the way, is a certified star from this point onward, thanks to this affecting performance. 

Can Hollywood, with all its allure and promise of fame, riches and achievement really accommodate these two, professionally and personally?  It's a skilfully-framed narrative about two people we come to care about, and its decidedly bitter-sweet quality feels exactly right.

I'd be delighted if La La Land went on to triumph at the Oscars. It's a gorgeously mounted fantasy that tips its hat to Hollywood's past - and in doing so suggests a standard for its future.

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