It opens with a bunch of optimistic, brightly coloured dancers bursting out of their cars on a freeway traffic jam leading into Los Angeles. La La Land makes itself very clear from the beginning: this is a film about kids with big dreams and unwavering passions. The dancing on cars is reminiscent of Alan Parker’s Fame (1980) but without the New York grit, instead this is LA where the sun shines through every season.
The film is oozing with the charm and grace of a time gone by. Ryan Gosling’s comic wit holds an obvious nod to the perfect timing and effortless poise of Gene Kelly. Emma Stone’s colourful swing dresses and the gentle jazz which punctuates the drama recall an old Hollywood flare. It’s only when the ringtone of Stone’s iPhone interrupts that we are thrown back into the modern day during a sunset-lit tap routine.
Indeed La La Land is a love story for the past, about a Hollywood which once was. While musicals have never really disappeared (as the success of 2012’s Les Misérables and 2013’s Frozen certainly prove) La La Land recalls a certain golden age of musical with references to Casablanca and Singin’ In The Rain whimsically intertwining throughout.
Stone plays Mia, a struggling actress working as a barista in a coffee shop on the Warner Brothers Pictures lot. She meets Gosling’s Sebastian (Seb), a wannabe Jazz star desperate to save his genre from the murky depths of ageing downtown bars, and together the two inspire each other to pursue their ambitions while also falling in love. It may sound sickly sweet but the multifaceted characters and unpretentious script from writer-director Damien Chazelle cement enough punch to balance any gooey sentiments. There’s something fundamentally realist about this dreamy, fantasy story. The melodies from Seb’s piano may at times feel melancholic, but the bluesy undertones and sunset backdrops only add to La La Land’s charm.
The film’s genius lies in its ability to capture the reality and heartbreak of failure and, simultaneously, affirm the importance of creativity and hope. “So bring on the rebels/ the ripples from pebbles/ the painters and poets and plays” sings Mia in a final, hopeful audition before she packs in her hopes for LA success. La La Land is about ordinary people living ordinary lives but dreaming of the extraordinary. The message being, the film insists, you should never give up trying.