Hollywood. The land of dreams is no stranger to appearing on the big screen and being presented from many different angles, but it has been a long time since it was quite so colourful and quite so musical. This is La La Land.
Seb (Ryan Gosling) and Mia (Emma Stone) are both dreamers. The former longs to own and manage his own jazz club, the latter sees her name in lights, her face on the big screen. Their paths are interwoven and they can chase their dreams together with encouragement and support but the world we live in isn't easy for dreamers. There are expectations to live up to, finances to organise, and the proverbial 'man' keeping our protagonists from their ultimate success. Also, the film teaches us that sometimes success and dreams do not come hand in hand, that one does not necessarily equate to the other. This is not just a story of Seb and Mia, of their love and dreams, this is a story of how Hollywood engulfs those who wish to chase their dreams, how it forces compromise and conflict, how small decisions can change everything. And this story is told through song and dance.
The film opens with a traffic jam - welcome to Hollywood. But one by one, the commuters begin to sing; they step out of their cars and dance down the road in a spectacularly flowing set piece. Welcome to La La Land. The tone is apparent and the stage is set; we are thrown into a two hour rush of colour, music and movement. Director Damien Chazelle glides through his narrative with confidence, the film dancing along with its stars, helped in no small part by cinematographer Linus Sandgren. Chazelle and Sandgren choreograph each scene to the beat of the film, their camera as one of the performers. It weaves in and out of cars and bars, it swings around the piano that Seb plays, it circles Mia as she sings her heart out; it captures every ounce of emotion and, more importantly, soul that the film has to offer. If Chazelle's last feature Whiplash embodied the intensity of jazz, La La Land captures its warmth.
La La Land is a musical adventure into fantasy. It's more universally appealing than Chazelle's Whiplash, it's more charming and a lot less bleak, and also harks back to the golden age of Hollywood. This is almost a guaranteed formula for critical success (see The Artist's Best Picture win in 2012), but it also makes for a wonderful piece of cinema. It lacks the depth and power of some arguably better films, but it is inoffensive and totally captivating. It is a glimpse of what happens when a skilled film-maker decides to create something joyous; La La Land does not need to be dark to be brilliant.