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Review: La La Land

Roslyn Hull

“Set in modern day Los Angeles, this is the story of Mia, an aspiring actress, and Sebastian, a dedicated jazz musician, who are struggling to make ends meet in a city known for crushing hopes and breaking hearts.” Official site 

Addressing the big news first – just this week La La Land made history by winning more Golden Globe awards (seven) than any other movie. A record that has stood since One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975) and Midnight Cowboy (1978) each won six. Well done, not bad at all. I sound calm, right? I’m not!

Dammit Janet, IT’S A NEW. MODERN. ORIGINAL MUSICAL! I thought this species was extinct! AAAAAAAAARRRGGGH (arms waving like an inflatable car yard balloon man)!

I was so happy right from the moment the ‘Cinemascope’ message came up that I could barely sit still. It’s not Disney, not adapted from Disney, or Broadway, or TV or another film. It is something entirely new and shiny. And everyone got rewarded for actually creating something new and wonderful. Have I stepped into an alternative universe … or is 2016 actually over (in part anyway)?

Have I said yet that I loved it?

I did. Yes, it’s imperfect – there are some really obvious continuity errors and there are times when the story changes location or emphasis so often I seemed to be swimming past the action rather than involved in it BUT it is the real thing. A genuine, made for the movies Hollywood musical.

You can read articles for days on the myriad influences and references that writer/director Damien Chazelle drew on, but it is more than the sum of these parts. Chazelle also made Whiplash, another knock-your-socks-off movie, so even though still in his early 30s he is certainly making his mark. And that mark seems to be an energetic creativity that I can only hope others try to imitate. He is certainly a student of the golden age of Hollywood, but not its slave.

This film is a musical for now, a story for any time and a visual treat, whichever way you cut it.

Costume designer Mary Zophres has done everything – just check out her IMDb page – and right from the opening ‘jammed freeway so let’s dance on our cars’ number her use of primary brights in solid blocks of colour gave style and richness to Mandy Moore’s modern yet classic choreography. This great collaboration peaks in sharp suits and sharp moves for Ryan (sigh) Gosling and graceful, witty outfits for Emma Stone to show off her tap-dancing twirls.

Such a complete joy – although, as a musical tragic I had to refrain from gripping my companion’s arm when I recognised the influence of An American in Paris, Funny Face and The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. I didn’t want to frighten him, he’s 22 years old and unused to my madness, although related to me.

There are some wonderful, grand set piece musical numbers (particularly in the best use of a montage this century, towards the end of the film, when we see what might have been). However most of the music is organically woven into the story, as it is in the old-time greats, and it gives it a casual polish and sense of style that well, win awards. Justin Hurwitz is definitely a talent to be reckoned with – and again, shockingly young.

Speaking of that montage – be prepared. It even broke the nephew’s heart and we left the cinema teary but wanting to dance at the same time.

Image via Flickr


Ros Hull

Roslyn is a writer and storyteller who loves all things Canberra, her family, sci fi and movies – but not in that order. She has worked in museum education since 2001 and has a passion for imparting knowledge to others. Writing is her happy place, particularly if there is a dog at her feet and a coffee in her hand. More about the Author