You will have registered the buzz surrounding La La Land and clocked its seven Golden Globe wins and 11 Bafta nominations. However, I know you won’t believe it’s wonderful unless you hear it directly from me, so here you are: it’s wonderful. Mostly. It’s wonderful, with a few caveats. I feel bad about the caveats but if you have caveats and repress them, it can make you quite ill in later years. Best to get them out there. But just so we’re clear: La La Land with caveats is still more wonderful than almost anything else.
It is written and directed by Damien Chazelle (Whiplash), who grew up loving old-style romantic musicals, even if that was only ten minutes ago (he is 31, goddammit). Shot in Cinemascope and using gloriously saturated colours — yellow will have never seemed so yellow — this is an old-style romantic musical that also pays homage. American in Paris, The Band Wagon, Oklahoma!, Funny Face, A Star is Born, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (particularly) — there are nods to them all. And it opens spectacularly, with a traffic jam on the LA freeway that turns into a single-take song-and-dance number as bored commuters abandon their cars and cartwheel over bonnets to a tune — caveat alert! — with lyrics I couldn’t make out for the life of me. But it’s deliciously choreographed and provides an opportunity for the first meet-cute between Mia (Emma Stone, who is 87 per cent eyes) and Sebastian (Ryan Gosling, 100 per cent a dish). This happens when, back in the jam, he beeps at her, and she gives him the finger. Oh no! They hate each other! Calamity! Of course, we know they’ll eventually fall in love, because this is the trope that’s the trope of tropes, and we’re mad for this trope. Much of La La Land feels familiar, because it is, but that’s kind of its point. It’s a tribute. Yet beware, as it does wrong-foot you at the end. Even if it does so quite bewilderingly. (Major caveat: the ending.)
Both Mia and Sebastian are chasing the Hollywood dream. She’s an aspiring actress who works as a barista and attends humiliating auditions. He’s a jazz pianist who wants to open a club playing the ‘pure jazz’ which — second caveat alert! — he will mansplain to her at some length, while talking over the live ‘pure jazz’ she could otherwise be listening to. Yes, their paths cross again, and they do fall in love, mostly via a series of song-and-dance numbers including one where, after attending a showing of Rebel Without a Cause, they visit the Griffith Observatory and float up, up, up among the stars. No caveats here. In fact, I nearly expired with the enchanted gorgeousness of it.
Look, Stone is no Judy Garland — her voice hurts in the upper reaches — and Gosling is no Fred Astaire. He’d probably always be mid-table in Strictly. Chazelle works within their limits, so there is quite a lot of gentle waltzing, but I’m not sure this matters. You want to keep watching them, whatever. Stone, luckily, considering she is 87 per cent eyes, can act with those eyes. Stone can radiate intelligence, wit, pain, amusement, heartbreak, just with those eyes. While Gosling, for his part, somehow shows us the loneliness and hurt beneath Seb’s uncompromising exterior. The chemistry is magic. They’re made for each other. Aren’t they?
I don’t wish to give away the ending here so will just say there are complications to do with careers getting in the way, and I just didn’t understand why it came down to a choice: the dream or the relationship. There are many jokey allusions to the modern world — cellphone jokes; Prius jokes — so the two couldn’t have Skyped? Whats-apped, whatever that is? But I’ll leave it there, before I dig myself into a deeper spoiler hole. A wonderful film and, on reflection, maybe caveats be damned? Bit embarrassed I even mentioned them now.