So we’re back once again for this look at this year’s Best Picture contenders and we start with a movie whose successes have to be attributed partly to the fact that it’s the perfect antidote to the horrific year of 2016.
Another reason why I believe La-La Land has been as big of an awards contender as it has become is because it appeals to the voting members of the academy many of whom are of advancing years. In fact, I believe a lot of people were won over by the film as soon as the ‘presented in Cinemascope’ logo appeared before the movie even started. Damien Chazelle’s follow-up to Whiplash takes place over a year and follows Emma Stone’s Mia wannabe actress as she juggles auditions and her work at a coffee shop neither of which bring her much success. Over the course of a few days Mia encounters Ryan Gosling’s struggling jazz pianist Sebastian and gradually they begin to fall for each other. Obviously, the course of true love never did run smooth and as the year continues; Sebastian’s decision to go on the road and compromise his beliefs about jazz music jeopardises his relationship with Mia. Although the film initially has somewhat of a feelgood ending with both achieving a modicum of success, the epilogue of La-La Land gives us a little dollop of reality to go with all the fantasy that the film dishes up.
I think my expectations were slightly too high when going into La-La Land and therefore I was initially a little disappointed by the film. I, unlike others, was not won over by the opening freeway number ‘Another Day of Sun’ or particularly engaged with Mia’s first unsuccessful audition. It was only when the action switched to Sebastian that I felt La-La Land truly got going partly due to Ryan Gosling’s superb performance and partly because I felt that Chazelle was more interested in telling his story than he was Mia’s. Once Mia and Sebastian had bumped into each other in the jazz club though I finally began to be swept away by La-La Land’s charm thanks in no small part to the chemistry shared by the leads. Although some of the sequences were a little hard to swallow, including that observatory scene, I did enjoy how Chazelle explored the themes of settling for something rather than following your dreams. There are easy comparisons to be drawn between La-La Land and Whiplash especially in regards to Sebastian who’s hatred at the way that jazz music has been forgotten is lost after he finds success with John Legend’s band leader. Indeed music is a massive part of what makes La-La Land a success and I defy anybody not to walk out of the film without humming a little bit of the film’s central song ‘City of Stars’.
It’s not just the music that’s brilliant; the costumes, cinematography, art direction and sound editing are all superb and make me think at this early stage that La-La Land will garner a multitude of Oscar wins. Unfortunately I did feel at times it was a little baggy especially during its epilogue as our lovers dream of what could have been had things worked out differently. Overall though La-La Land provided a brilliant diversion to the horrors of the outside world of 2016 and mixed nostalgic musical numbers with a more modern story. Although I did enjoy Whiplash more, La-La Land is still a fantastic film but at this early stage I can already tell it won’t be my favourite of this year’s Best Picture nominees.