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Review: La La Land: Sickly sweet meets substance

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More than a homage to the musical genre

By Charlie Jordin

From Whiplash director Damien Chazelle comes La La Land, an explosion of music, dance and romance. Starring Ryan Gosling as Sebastian, a Jazz musician, and Emma Stone as Mia, a struggling actress, La La Land is a delightful celebration of musical cinema.

Set in sunlit Los Angeles, Sebastian and Mia are both pursuing their ambitions; Sebastian dreams of keeping Jazz alive by opening a Jazz club and Mia, obsessed with old films, wants to become an actress. Both struggle to make ends meet- Mia faces countless rejections from auditions whilst Sebastian plays background music in a restaurant and keyboard in a cheesy ‘80s cover band.

Whilst the plot may seem cliché, La La Land embraces the cliché. It provides a masterclass in the musical genre, with references to Hollywood classics both subtle and palpable; Mia points out the balcony Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman made famous in Casablanca on the building opposite her workplace, a Starbucks on a Hollywood set. The mix of old school Hollywood aesthetic with modern sensibilities results in colourful and kitsch visuals and inventive camerawork which will satisfy everyone in the audience regardless of their enthusiasm for the musical genre.

Gosling’s performance as a dedicated and traditionalist Jazz musician is undoubtedly one of his most outstandingly frank, but Stone’s performance as a struggling actress really shines through. Her delicate singing voice encapsulates the vulnerability of her character perfectly and the chemistry between both leading characters is tangible. Even those who usually dislike musicals will find it difficult not to be enchanted by their tender and enigmatic romance.

The film’s only weakness is the opening scene, an overly cheery musical number on the road-blocked motorway into L.A. It feels disjointed from the rest of the film, more like a car advertisement than an introduction to the plot. However, the quality skyrockets once the scene is over. There are other moments that some may find hard to swallow, like how a Starbucks barista manages to live in a plush apartment in the middle of one of the most expensive cities in America, but in the nature of the genre, it is best to ignore and focus on the magic of the film.

La La Land is more than a homage to the musical genre; it is a celebration of cinema itself and the power it has to bewitch and amaze. It is also a tenderly genuine exploration of the pursuit of happiness and success, and how the two often don’t cooperate. While the film borrows tropes from the musical genre, it is far from a conventional romance and is more Roman Holiday than Singin’ in the Rain.

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Charlie Jordin

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