La La Land Review: Ryan Gosling's Game-Changing Musical Deserves Its Inevitable Oscar

Whiplash director Damien Chazelle is back with a musical love story starring Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone​ - but is it any good?

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It's no secret that Hollywood loves a good navel gaze.

In fact, you have to wonder if the whole town has accidentally crooked its neck into place, considering three of the past five Academy Award 'Best Picture' winners have been films about filmmaking (Birdman, The Artist and Argo).

That's not to mention the rose-tinted Tinsel Town odes that have been released just this year, including Woody Allen's Café Society and the Coen Brother's Hail Ceaser!. If the world of art is just a fleshed-out Instagram feed, then Hollywood is your annoying mate who can't stop posting selfies (and then awarding themselves a cheeky like, for good measure.)

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But if that's the case, then what a selfie Damien Chazelle's musical 'La La Land' is. Stunningly shot, effortlessly self-assured and filtered to within an inch of its life, with Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling performing a perfectly placed photo bomb to top the whole thing off. 

Stone is Mia, a struggling actress who shares an ambition with every other barista in town: to catch a break, or at least receive a crumb of attention from the countless casting agents she flails and fails in front of each day. Gosling plays a similarly toiling dreamer – Seb, a talented pianist who keeps getting fired from restaurant jobs for playing rambling, off-piste jazz numbers (his ultimate wish is to open a bar of his own, where he can play whatever he wants).

They meet during a traffic jam, directly after a sprawling song-and-dance number involving every driver on the chock-a-bloc freeway. It comes at the very beginning of the film, and stands out as the most show tune-y (and therefore out-of-place) piece on the score, and it's at this early point that I and the rest of the less Broadway-braced cinemagoers start to scope out viable escape routes. But then summer snaps into autumn on-screen, and the movie's sickly sweet joie-de-vivre transforms into something far more glum and palatable.

What follows is a year in the life of two loved-up hopefuls chasing their Tinsel Town dreams in wholly separate, and often conflicting, ways. While set in the modern day, golden age Hollywood nostalgia creeps into almost every aspect of the film, from the twinkling love songs, to the fifties-nodding fashion, and even to some of the panicked plot points that could easily be solved with a swift WhatsApp message.

The musical score is a mixture of dainty piano numbers, orchestral grandeur and the kind of discombobulating free jazz frenzies that Chazelle displayed such an affinity for in Whiplash. Stone and Gosling are good – not great – singers and dancers, but they more than make up for their lack of Broadway polish with combined charm and chemistry. The script is dry and funny, pushed along by the pair's beat-perfect comedic timing, all helping to stop the starry-eyed tale from becoming too straight-faced and saccharine.

The film seems forever poised to take on the inevitable critics who will decry its complete lack of grit and conflict, as well as its brazen adoration of old Hollywood. At one point, it feels like Seb is shouting directly at the greener deposits of the Rotten Tomatoes review section when he pleads: "Why do you say 'romantic' like it's a dirty word?" Later on, when writing a one women play, Mia complains that her plot is too nostalgic. "That's the point," Seb argues.

The love story is paper thin and predictable, but that doesn't  matter. It's the sound and the spectacle that will leave you feeling like you've just witnessed a near-perfect piece of cinema. The Oscars might be in danger of parodying itself, but it won't come as a surprise to anyone if the Academy writes itself another love letter come February.

'La La Land' is released in cinemas 13 January.