By Daniele Foti-Cuzzola
For years major Hollywood studios have scratched their heads wondering whether there is in fact still a place for the traditional Hollywood musical.
Since the 1970s, major musicals have been few and far between, and only a small portion have proven to be critically and commercially successful.
However, Damien Chazelle’s dazzling modern-day musical La La Land proves that when done right, a traditional musical can captivate as well as any blockbuster and pack as heavy an emotional punch as any drama.
With outstanding performances by leads Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, stunning cinematography and toe-tapping musical numbers, La La Land is a dream come true for any musical lover and will win over even the genre’s harshest critics.
Set in modern day Los Angles, La La Land is the story of two star-crossed lovers, chasing their dreams in the cut-throat entertainment industry.
Mia (Stone) is an aspiring actress who works at the café on a cinema lot while Sebastian (Gosling) is a jazz musician who dreams of owning his own jazz club.
After several chance encounters, the two fall in love amid the backdrop of a dreamy Los Angeles, but wonder whether their love can endure as their dreams take them on different paths.
Mr Chazelle has created a visually stunning film that highlights the beauty of Los Angeles, a city normally known for breaking hearts and killing dreams.
From the opening scene, which turns a backed up traffic jam on a freeway into a lively impromptu musical number, Chazelle celebrates the beauty of the city.
One of the film’s highlights is when Mia and Sebastian visit the Griffith Observatory and literally dance amongst the stars. It’s pure movie magic that harks back to the musicals of the 1930s and 1940s starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rodgers.
Like Rogers and Astaire, who starred in several films together, La La Land marks Stone and Gosling’s third shared film and the two work wonderfully together.
It’s hard to imagine the film with anyone else in the lead roles as their chemistry is undeniably magical.
Stone, who is tipped to take home the Oscar for her role as Mia, delivers a career-defining performance. She’s feisty and hot-headed, yet also shows vulnerability and questions her own self-worth.
Gosling is equally brilliant, once again playing a hopeless romantic who struggles with his own self-doubt.
La La Land is the first musical for both, but they have so fully immersed themselves in their roles that it looks like singing, dancing (and in Gosling’s case, piano playing) is second nature to them.
Songwriters Justin Hurwitz, Justin Paul and Benj Pasek have also delivered some truly memorable musical numbers.
Highlights include the swoon-worthy romantic ballad City of Stars, the brilliantly choreographed Another Day of Sun and Mia’s gut-wrenching ballad Audition (The Fools Who Dream), which will leave you absolutely heartbroken. The scene with Stone’s performance is worth the entry ticket alone.
La La Land is truly one of the best films to grace the screen in a while. The stunning cinematography and visuals hark back to the major musicals of the past and the song and dance numbers will have you grinning from ear to ear.
But unlike most musicals, La La Land is not a happy-go-lucky movie outing. It’s a bittersweet romance about the importance of dreams and love, and the sacrifices we endure to make our dreams come true.
While watching La La Land, you know it’s a great film, but the last five minutes are what makes it an outstanding film. Chazelle crafts a brilliant sequence in which we look at the alternative lives these characters could have lived, and accept, like they do, the decisions which lead them to their destiny.
It’s an important lesson for us all to remember. Don’t dwell on the past, but accept the life you live and appreciate where you are, because we all have something worth singing about.
La La Land is in cinemas now. The Australian Classification is Mature (M) – containing moderate content and recommended for persons 15 years and over.