A mu­si­cal mas­ter­piece

DAMON SMITH de­cides the fever­ish hype ac­com­pa­ny­ing Damien Chazelle’s love story La La Land is com­pletely jus­ti­fied

Harefield Gazette - - LEISURE -

THE fren­zied ex­pec­ta­tion sur­round­ing writer-di­rec­tor Damien Chazelle’s mu­si­cal love story was al­ready deaf­en­ing be­fore La La Land won a record seven Golden Globe awards ear­lier this month.

His im­pec­ca­bly crafted fol­low-up to the crit­i­cally ac­claimed Whiplash is now firmly in­stalled as the fron­trun­ner for glory at next month’s Os­cars, and al­ready has one trem­bling hand on the cov­eted golden stat­uettes for Best Pic­ture and Best Di­rec­tor.

The fever­ish hype is fully jus­ti­fied.

La La Land is a vis­ually sump­tu­ous, un­abashedly swoon­ing valen­tine to the golden age of Hol­ly­wood mu­si­cals, art­fully con­structed on a foun­da­tion of dis­tinctly mod­ern sen­si­bil­i­ties.

Yes, char­ac­ters burst into catchy songs com­posed by Justin Hur­witz, with snappy lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, to ex­press their churn­ing emo­tions, while their bod­ies tap, pirou­ette, twist and jive to Mandy Moore’s ex­pres­sive chore­og­ra­phy. But there is so much more to Chazelle’s story of boy meets girl than doe-eyed glances and pat sen­ti­ment, in­clud­ing a heart-wrench­ing sec­ond act that af­firms the need for ev­ery­one to chase their dreams, but also ac­knowl­edges the acrid pill we must swal­low when re­al­ity bites, down to the bone. As­pir­ing ac­tress Mia (Emma Stone) works as a barista in be­tween au­di­tions, which re­peat­edly end in crush­ing re­jec­tion.

On a traf­fic-jammed Los An­ge­les free­way, she crosses paths with tal­ented pi­anist Se­bas­tian (Ryan Gosling), who reveres jazz in its purest form, but is forced to play sac­cha­rine stan­dards by restau­rant owner Bill (JK Sim­mons).

“I hate jazz,” Mia tells Se­bas­tian af­ter they meet at a party in the Hol­ly­wood hills, where they share dreams for the fu­ture be­neath the twin­kling stars of the Cal­i­for­nian night sky.

Se­bas­tian is con­vinced he can spear­head a new ap­pre­ci­a­tion for mu­sic un­til an old class­mate, Keith (John Leg­end), ques­tions his de­vo­tion to mas­ters of a by­gone era.

“You’re hold­ing onto the past,” laments Keith, “but jazz is about the fu­ture.”

While Mia pre­pares to stage her semi­au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal onewoman show So Long, Boul­der City, Se­bas­tian agrees to play key­board in Keith’s soul­less, chart­friendly band The Mes­sen­gers. Frus­tra­tions be­tween the cou­ple come to a head in a frac­tious to and fro about artis­tic in­tegrity. “Since when do you care so much about be­ing liked?” snarls Mia.

“You’re an ac­tress!” Se­bas­tian an­grily re­minds her, in­tro­duc­ing pot to black ket­tle. La La Land is a per­fect mar­riage of di­rec­to­rial brio, tour-de-force per­for­mance and jaw­drop­ping pro­duc­tion de­sign.

Gosling and Stone are in­di­vid­u­ally lu­mi­nous and elec­tri­fy­ing as a dou­ble-act in high en­ergy song and dance se­quences. Both are gifted emo­tion­ally wrought so­los – City Of Stars and Au­di­tion (The Fools Who Dreams) re­spec­tively – that gal­va­nize Se­bas­tian and Mia’s per­ilously frag­ile ro­mance. Chazelle’s film is a bit­ter and sweet con­fec­tion in equal doses, laced with dry wit and an ap­pre­ci­a­tion for the tug of war be­tween love and ca­reer ad­vance­ment that ne­ces­si­tates painful self­sac­ri­fices for ei­ther side to tri­umph.

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