james debate
james debate

Monday 31 October 2016

Directed by Damien Chazelle
Written by Damien Chazelle
Produced by Fred Berger, Gary Gilbert, Jordan Horowitz, Marc Platt
Starring Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, J K Simmons
Studio Summit Entertainment
Running time 128 minutes

la la land damien chazelle ryan gosling emma stone j k simmons review 2016 oscars

Recently I had the good fortune of attending a headline gala at the London BFI film festival, at the entirely social hour of 10am on a Saturday. Unsurprisingly, this was a considerably dressed-down affair, few tuxes on show at the early hours of the weekend. That didn't make the occasion any less memorable as we were treated to a preview screening of La La Land, followed by a Q&A with writer/director Damien Chazelle and star Ryan Gosling.

Film fans will know Damien Chazelle from his 2014 breakthrough with Whiplash, the unassuming film which came seemingly from nowhere to win critical plaudits and went on to garner five Academy Award nominations, including three wins. Sadly it missed the cut off for the Debbie Awards that year, otherwise it may well have won our coveted Best Film award.

Now with a huge hit to his name and worldwide recognition, Chazelle has found himself at last with the cachet to pursue his passion projects on a much grander and more elaborate scale. La La Land is nothing if not grand, a musical in the classical Broadway fashion, with intricate song and dance numbers, a star studded cast featuring Gosling, Emma Stone, and in a small role J K Simmons, who won an Oscar for Chazelle's last film.

Gosling is the starving jazz musician in an era that no longer appreciates his art-form, while Stone is an aspiring actress working in a coffee shop. It's a romantic film of course, and one steeped in Californian nostalgia, but at its core is about our life choices and the extent to which our ambitions clash with the things that truly make us happy. You read that and think to yourself "so what, another Hollywood love story?", after all the movie industry loves to kiss its own ass and does so in film form just about every year.

But this is not just some by-the-numbers self-congratulatory vanity piece. Strong performances far exceed whatever you might expect from such familiar archetypes, while whip-smart writing creates scenes that are genuinely funny, and tender when appropriate. The production itself is dazzling and the songs memorable. Sure, the story may tread well-worn ground, but it never succumbs to the obvious cliché that one might have feared, and its message is all the more powerful for it. This is a work of such high quality that it will win over all but the most hardened of cynics. I for one had a smile on my face the entire way through.

La La Land is that rare Hollwood tribute that manages to create the same kind of magic that it sets out to celebrate. Chazelle is a true talent in the making, and if Whiplash was the film that announced his arrival, then La La Land is the moment he takes centre stage. Without any doubt, the film to watch going into the awards season.

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