If you’ve only just heard about La La Land, you may be wondering what all the song and dance is about. But if you’ve been tracing its trajectory for a while, you’ll know that song and dance is the whole idea.
The delectable new film from Damien Chazelle – winner of seven Golden Globes, recipient of 11 Bafta nominations, and the expected winner of the 89th Academy Award for Best Picture – is a musical. And not just any old musical, but the twirling, soaring kind that was last in style in the 1960s heyday of Jacques Demy, when Catherine Deneuve and Françoise Dorléac swished down sun-drenched boulevards in sorbet-coloured minidresses, trilling glistening jazz-pop numbers that imprint themselves on your heart in one go.
Chazelle captures that spirit – which was fondly nostalgic even in Demy’s day – and releases it into the wilds of present-day Los Angeles like he’s returning a long-absent species to its natural habitat. Old Hollywood is where the movie musical first flourished, after all – and though its golden age may be long gone, the film has faith that a boy, a girl, a bench and a plum-coloured sunrise are still capable of working their magic.
The boy in question is Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), a passionate jazz pianist with a half-formed but wholehearted ambition to open a club of his own and defend his favourite music from extinction. And the girl is Mia (Emma Stone), a gifted aspiring actress who flits between fruitless auditions and a coffee shop till on the Warner Bros studio lot. All that each of them needs is an opportunity. What they find is each other.Whether or not the latter of those things can make up for the absence of the former is the big question on La La Land’s mind, and the answer isn’t as glib as you might expect. Behind the film’s nimble comedy and exuberant musical set-pieces beats a complex, crisply written romance, the power of which creeps up on you slowly then strikes in the film’s second half, in which Sebastian and Mia’s ambitions and relationship become increasingly tricky to reconcile.
Once you’ve waltzed through the stars – as do our lovers at the film’s halfway point, in an unabashedly gorgeous gravity-defying fantasia – the only way is down.