La La Land (2016)

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La La Land is a masterpiece. That is all that needs to be said. There isn’t any point justifying why this is one truly extraordinary film, and perhaps the very best film of 2016. Very rarely does a pure cinematic masterpiece arrive in cinemas, and if there was ever a film that deserves the title of being called a true piece of art, it is La La Land, which is maybe (and this isn’t hyperbolic in any way) the best experience I’ve ever had in a cinema. That isn’t an exaggeration – and perhaps it can be blamed partially on the sense of excitement and joy that La La Land puts into the viewer, but I truly believe this is a remarkable piece of cinema. There really isn’t any reason to review this film further, because sometimes the best works of art are just brilliant without much discussion being needed. However, La La Land is just so incredible, and there is just so much to say about it.

Let’s start at the very beginning – the idea. Musicals used to be the most popular genre of film – and while they haven’t completely been rendered extinct (as there are still great musicals, usually stage adaptations, such as Hairspray and Chicago), but there hasn’t been a genuine, honest original film musical in years. Luckily that changed with Damien Chazelle, who brought his unique vision and love of music (shown in his incredible debut Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench and his indie breakthrough Whiplash) to bring a film musical to the screen. La La Land does something extraordinary – it manages to be a homage to the film musicals of years past, while still being an audacious musical in its own right. Essentially, it is a film that pays tribute to the films that inspired it, while being brilliant enough to stand alongside its inspirations as an equally great film, and a film that will inspire many more films in the future. La La Land proudly displays its metafictional elements, rather than hiding them, and much like the works of Quentin Tarantino, La La Land makes absolutely no secret of the fact that other films and works of art inspired it. While Chazelle doesn’t outright steal from other musicals, he does show his inspirations, and for anyone who has a passion for musical films, the little homages to classic musicals are truly delightful, and contribute to the overall brilliance of La La Land as a genuinely amazing film musical.

Like any great film, La La Land captivates you right from the very first moment. Opening with one of the catchiest and most beautifully staged musical numbers in musical film history (and a homage to Federico Fellini’s /Otto e Mezzo, and strangely manages to be a better tribute to that film than Nine, a film actually based on Fellini), and it captivates your attention right from the first scene and it brutally refuses to let go of your attention, keeping you completely captivated until the very last moment, where you are struck with an emotional blow. How did Damien Chazelle (a truly talented filmmaker, albeit still quite a newcomer) manage to create a film that grabs the audience and doesn’t let them go for the entire duration of the film, keeping them on the edge of their seats, and like the greatest films in history, create a cinematic experience that is almost entirely impossible to look away from? The honest answer is that Chazelle, through his own audacity and relationship to equally talented individuals in other film-related films, found the perfect combination to what makes a perfect film, and taking apart each and every element of La La Land reveals utter flawless effort in all aspects of the film. There isn’t a single weak element in the entirety of La La Land, which is a testament to how utterly brilliant the minds behind this film are, and how hard work results in something extraordinary a lot of the time.

The performances in La La Land are something to behold. Unlike a lot of movie musicals, La La Land doesn’t depend on a large ensemble cast of big-names. Of course, the two leads in La La Land are two of the biggest talents working today, but both are at the top of their game, and carry this entire film on their very capable shoulders, and despite neither being a traditionally trained singer or dancer, both manage to give a neo-classical musical like La La Land the necessary gravitas it deserves. It would be very difficult to choose a stronger one of the pair, because both work equally as hard, and stretch themselves further than I have ever seen either in previous films – and I truly believe La La Land is going to be one of the defining films in both of the leads’ careers, if not the film that they are remembered for – and to be honest, there are way worse films to have your legacy based on.

The first of the two incredible leads is Emma Stone, who is just so talented and delightful, and is one of the most charismatic and likable actresses of her generation. In her performance as Mia Dolan, Stone gets the opportunity to show off her entire acting range, showing her natural charm and comic timing (in the film’s funnier and more lighthearted moments), while still being able to bring dramatic gravitas to the film’s often melancholic message. Stone has unbelievable charisma, and I don’t think she has ever been better, and much like most of the world was so delighted to find ourselves shocked with her brilliance in Easy A, it feels like we discover Stone all over again in La La Land, where I can honestly say she has never been better. I don’t think any young actress working today fascinates me more than Emma Stone, because I legitimately believe she is going to be seen as a cinematic icon in years to come, and with a performance like hers in La La Land, she will be more than deserving of such a status.

I know I said it is difficult to choose between the two leads, because they are both equally brilliant – but I am breaking my own rule and saying that what Ryan Gosling does in La La Land is beyond human. If there was any doubt that Gosling is set to be seen as one of the greatest actors of all time, La La Land reaffirms that belief strongly. I find it difficult for anyone to watch Gosling’s performance in La La Land and not be utterly moved. His performance as Sebastian Wilder is complex, interesting and layered in idiosyncratic brilliance. He extends far beyond playing a struggling pianist – he creates a character as incredible as it is moving, and much like Stone, La La Land offers Gosling the chance to showcase his natural charm, comedic talents and his own quirky personality. I am constantly left in awe with Gosling, and I have yet to see a truly bad performance from him. His career has all the indications that he is going to be an absolute legend, and the comparisons with Robert De Niro aren’t completely inaccurate, because if Drive was Gosling’s Taxi Driver, then La La Land is certainly his New York, New York. I just can’t wait to see where Stone and Gosling’s careers go, because I think they have potential that is beyond exciting, because they have both proven they can go absolutely everywhere – and once you’ve conquered a musical, then you can basically do anything and be utterly brilliant at it. Neither may be the strongest dancers or the most talented singers, but they deserve all the acclaim for simply putting in the effort, which resulted in two incredible performances.

Now if La La Land was only these performances, it would still be a tremendous film. Yet, despite being central to the story, the performances aren’t even the most impressive or important aspect of La La Land. The music, composed by Justin Hurwitz, is absolutely fantastic. Filled with original and incredibly well-written songs, the score is just unbelievable. The best part about the music in La La Land – Chazelle and Hurwitz knew exactly the right balance that this film needed. We could’ve easily been overloaded with catchy musical numbers – yet, we were rather given about a dozen incredible, classy and very diverse musical performances, ranging from brilliantly catchy (“Another Day of Sun”, “Someone in the Crowd”), to beautifully sentimental and nostalgic (“City of Stars”, which recurs throughout and “Audition”) to just wonderful (“Start a Fire”, “A Lovely Night”) – rather than overloading with musical numbers, there is remarkable restraint shown to make this a musical that is composed of diverse, but all equally beautiful, performances. None of the songs really sound the same (not even “City of Stars”, which despite being played throughout the film, is seemingly different every time, depending only on the context in which it is played – part of the genius of Chazelle in writing and directing this film).

The creative minds behind La La Land were in full force – not only is the music incredible and the performances brilliant – the film is just stunning to look at. Both the cinematography and production design were easily the best of the year. To call them “beautiful” seems oddly wrong, because they were far more than simply beautiful. They were utterly mesmerizing, and take La La Land from being an amazing film and turn it into a towering cinematic achievement. There is just so much about the way that La La Land looks that left me completely spellbound – there was so much effort put into creating the distinctive look of this film, and both serving as a tribute to specific films and overall cinematic movements and certain filmmakers, it is just beyond delightful. La La Land didn’t need to look this beautiful, but I am so glad that it does, because it has been elevated way beyond my expectations.

Let me cut to the chase – La La Land is a nearly perfect film. There are absolutely no glaring flaws, and I would not be opposed to the idea of considering this an entirely perfect film. Small narrative issues and minuscule other concerns are too irrelevant to even mention, and will surely fade with time as I grow to adore this film more and more. There isn’t much to say other than La La Land is the best film of 2016. Despite stiff competition from two other films, it really isn’t a contest. You don’t make a film as delightful, extraordinary and beautiful as La La Land and not see it result in an utter masterpiece. I think this is just an incredible film, and I honestly can’t wait to see it again and again. If there was a recent film that approaches utter perfection, it is La La Land.

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