Did Damien Chazelle suffer a stroke at some point?
Seriously, he made an excellent and critically acclaimed movie in Whiplash. A great script. A memorable villain. A stunning performance from his male lead. One of the best movies of 2014/2015.
I guarantee Chazelle was offered the cream of the crop after Whiplash’s success. After all, when his directing contemporaries did similarly small and very successful films, they were then given the chance to do some of the biggest films in Hollywood
- Colin Trevorrow directed Jurassic World after Safety Not Guaranteed.
- Marc Webb got to do Spider-man after 500 Days of Summer.
- Rupert Wyatt did Rise of the Planet of the Apes after The Escapist.
And yet what did Chazelle do for his second film? Not Marvel. Not Star Wars…
But a musical?
A Jazz musical?
An original Jazz musical?
An original and contemporary Jazz musical?
So once again I ask: Did Damien Chazelle suffer a stroke at some point?
Well I’m glad he did because he made a pretty damm good film didn’t he?
Set in the hustle and bustle of Los Angeles, La La Land follows the trials and tribulations of Mia (Emma Stone) and Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) as they both try to make it big in the bright lights of Hollywood.
As seen in Crazy, Stupid, Love, both Stone and Gosling have incredible chemistry. Both actors ooze charm in every movement; and while I wouldn’t say either of their dancing is up there with Astaire or Rogers, they still play off each other with the greatest of ease, especially in the scenes that require a bit more pathos.
The film overwhelmingly belongs to Stone and Gosling, so there’s not a lot that can be said about any supporting characters; though J.K. Simmons makes a nice appearance as a rather anal lover of Christmas songs.
With only 2 actors commanding most of the scenes, Chazelle chooses to treat the location of Los Angeles almost like a third character; and in doing so effortlessly pays homage to the majesty and elegance that dominated the Hollywood musicals of the 1940s and 50s.
And as you’d expect from a musical, it’s the songs that burrow themselves into your memory. From the toe-tapping opening of Another Day in Sun to the mournful melody of City of Stars; composer Justin Hurwitz has created a score for the ages, and one that I fully expect to one day see in the West End.
Outside of Chazelle’s directing and Hurwitz’s composition, the third leg of the pedestal this film sits upon is undoubtedly Linus Sandgren’s cinematography. Moving his camera with consummate flair, it’s great to finally watch a musical number that is filmed in long or even single takes. For too long we’ve had to watch modern musicals that look like they’ve been shot and edited by a masturbating Jack-in-the-Box!
But this musical extravaganza isn’t perfect. For most of the movie Chazelle does a great job in portraying his two leads as average joes. But there comes a point in the film where we realise that we’re following the story of the 0.1%.
Personally I felt a little let down by this part as the pursuit of the Hollywood dream is exactly that for most people: Just a pursuit. I do think it would have been far more impressive and brave to counteract what people might usually expect from a Hollywood ending.
I do wonder if maybe Chazelle’s youth is what contributed to this choice. Let’s be honest, if we assume his career kicked off with 2009’s Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench, then he ended up making an Oscar winning film only 5 years later. How unrealistic is that for the average aspiring actor or director?
Regardless of that minor issue, it’s clear that in 50 years, after the inevitable stage and TV adaptations, La La Land will be remembered as a timeless classic and is a great way to kick off 2017.