Last year ‘The Revenant’ swept awards season and claimed its biggest prize: the Academy Award for Best Picture. It’s a gruelling, punishing film caked in blood, grime and desperate hatred. It was a fitting film for 2016.
In pole position for this year’s prize is ‘La La Land’, a film arriving as much-needed respite following the many shocks, horrors and uncertainties of 2016. It’s what makes Damien Chazelle’s musical the perfect film to start 2017 with.
‘La La Land’ is a mug of hot chocolate after getting caught in a sleet storm. It’s a sincere homage to a bygone Hollywood era, and so there are certainly similarities to be drawn with another Oscar-winner – ‘The Artist’, but none favour the 2012 Best Picture winner.
What undoes Michel Hazanavicius’ well-meaning ode to silent movies is its knowing winks, and a single line of illusion-cracking dialogue. ‘La La Land’ by contrast is a wholehearted and true resurrection of a long-forgotten form which pays tribute in all the right ways, but is contemporary also, making the genre work for modern audiences but never trampling its legacy.
It’s an exercise in song-and-dance splendour about dreams, creativity and love. It paints its leading pair Mia (Emma Stone) and Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) as dreamers, but dreamers routinely whipped by life’s harsh realities. It’s a tap-dance set against a painterly skyline, but one that shows the wear and tear on its dancers’ feet.
‘La La Land’ is a success in every aspect of its craft. Chazelle’s smart script is brought to life by its charming leading pair, whose verve and passion is conveyed in the rich, colourful cinematography of Linus Sandgren. Given this is a musical, it’s Justin Kurwitz score on which everything hinges, and it is the film’s greatest triumph.
The soundtrack is a loving creation, reflecting every triumph of the film’s cast, script and visual design, and striking like the work of a life-long ambition. Each instant-classic is brought to life with the vim required of its intended mood. ‘La La Land’ is a film as memorable in its intimate moments as its sweeping, choreographed sequences, and the music reflects that.
The opening sequence brings joy to a sun-baked traffic jam, a balletic depiction of young love plays out in LA’s Griffith Observatory, there’s the hilltop scene depicted on the film’s omnipresent poster that’s already halfway iconic, and the finale sequence is a beautiful medley that ends the film with an emotional flourish.
Mia and Sebastian’s dreams may be more complicated to realise than they’re depicted, but the film’s point isn’t as trite as, “You can do anything if you put your mind to it”. Rather, it’s about the need for self-belief and loving support if you’re ever to live a life fulfilled, and accepting you have to take a few hits along the way,
‘La La Land’ delivers a bittersweet message with an optimistic outlook, sumptuously portraying life’s highs and low, angry outbursts and fits of passion, clenched fists and held-hands.
The sweet-natured optimism that endures is a welcome balm in a world gripped by fear and trepidation in the wake of pessimism’s many victories. It doesn’t solve the world’s problems, it won’t ease anyone’s concerns for very long, but for a moment at least, ‘La La Land’ made the light at the end of the tunnel a little brighter