Grapeshot’s Review of La La Land


Words || Alexander Basto

Mia (Emma Stone) is a young, wide-eyed aspiring actress struggling to make it in Hollywood. Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) is a talented pianist and jazz purist who one day hopes to open his own jazz club in Los Angeles. Both characters are trying desperately to do what they love for a living, but are perpetually stuck in mundane jobs; something we can all relate to on some level. Mia is a barista who serves coffee to actual movie stars in an Warner Brothers studio café while Sebastian plays insultingly simple Christmas songs in a restaurant to pay the bills.

By happenstance the two meet one night and, of course, fall in love. Their relationship proves to be important for both of them as they continually inspire each other to achieve their dreams together. La La Land now marks the third time Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling have starred opposite one another as lovers – previously Crazy, Stupid, Love and Gangster Squad. The onscreen chemistry between these two is palpable and as intense as ever. Because of this, their romance is instantly believable and I cared about them both equally.

La La Land has been described as a homage to the Golden Age of musicals and romances – think Singin’ In The Rain. In many ways I agree with that sentiment but director Damien Chazelle (who last directed 2014’s critically acclaimed Whiplash) infuses a few modern twists to create a delightful blend of both eras of filmmaking. While, the film successfully captures the old-timey look and feel of the classics, La La Land is very much set in present day Los Angeles. It recognises the past but doesn’t entirely get swept away in it. The second half of the film deviates from the typical trademarks of classic, old school romance narratives in order to pursue a more interesting development of its characters and story. The ending of the movie is incredible and elevates La La Land to a whole new level in a way that few films have done.

Chazelle, at only 31 years of age, is proving to be a genuine master of his craft. Besides the fact that Chazelle wrote the screenplay himself, an achievement in its own right; on a purely technical level, La La Land is exquisitely well crafted. Whether it’s the single-take musical numbers, the use of lighting to evoke certain emotions during specific scenes, or simply the way the movie looks, La La Land is a beautiful sight to behold. The film is filled to the brim with colour in every scene and it was hard to feel anything but happiness while I was watching. It truly is a dazzling cinematic experience.

Of course, La La Land is a musical and therefore if the music is not up to par, the entire movie falls flat. Breathe easy, because Justin Hurwitz’s score is absolutely fantastic. The songs are upbeat and filled with optimism but at the same time express the love, dreams, hope and heartbreak that Mia and Sebastian experience. I have been listening to the soundtrack on repeat since I got home from the theatre and it’s easily becoming one of my favourite soundtracks in recent years. Unlike many recent musicals, the transition into the musical numbers throughout the movie is smooth and doesn’t take you out of the film. If anything, it pulls you more into the world and that’s exactly what I want from a movie, even more so from a musical.

If you can’t already tell, I absolutely adore La La Land. That being said, I can understand that this film isn’t for everybody. I can easily see why some people may be bored when watching it despite how well the story is told. Something to also consider is that La La Land is being lauded by many in Hollywood because it is a film about how amazing Hollywood is. For lack of a better phrase, Hollywood tends to love having their ass kissed. It is a film that directly appeals to critics and voters of the Academy. It will undoubtedly win many awards in every category this awards season– acting, writing, directing, music – and deservedly so. In that sense, La La Land may be slightly overhyped as a complete and utter masterpiece. Personally I think it comes very, very close. It is undeniably one of the best films not only of 2016, but also the last decade.

In a world filled with reboots, remakes and cinematic universes, originality is becoming more and more of a rarity. But every once and a while, something will come along that reignites my love for cinema and the magic it can bring. La La Land has left me filled with much needed optimism and a new sense of determination to work towards the dreams I aspire to one day achieve; it’s pure feel-good entertainment that serves as a much needed form of both escapism and inspiration.


Alexander Basto reviews films at