By: Muneeb Arshid
Our top 10 of 2016 lists won’t be posted for at least another couple weeks as I and co-reviewer Samar Khan catch up on the awards season releases. But, I can say with a very high degree of certainty, that La La Land is my favourite, or at least in my top 3 favourite movies of 2016.
Yes, this is a musical, and I’ve just said that La La Land may be my favourite film of 2016. That statement being made this year is quite a feat, as 2016 has been a very strong year for awards-calibre films, unlike the year 2015 was. Now, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it is the film that I would probably choose for Best Picture in February, but unlike last year, where all the films nominated could have been argued and debated for the award; this year is a completely different situation. The shortlist for the award will come down to maybe 2 or 3 films with La La Land and Moonlight leading the way in most of the major categories.
So, what makes this film so good? Well, let’s start by talking about the story.
La La Land is the story of aspiring actor Mia (Emma Stone) and jazz pianist Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) who live in Los Angeles and are working towards their goals in their respective careers. The two get off to a very rocky start when they first meet, however, over the course of a year, Mia and Seb grow close while struggling to make ends meet and finding the success they were hoping for when they first came to Los Angeles. After failed attempts at different ventures for both Mia and Seb which included a one-woman theatre show for Mia and Seb being a keyboardist for a pop-inspired Jazz group led by Keith (John Legend), the two do eventually part ways and work everything out.
The film finishes on the highest of high notes showing us the two characters five years later when they have finally found success to the heights that they had once imagined. What the film does successfully is to never have that feeling that it needs to wrap up character arcs in a “positive” way. Everything about the film feels organic in terms of how the characters deal with each other but also dealing with their specific career and relationship ups and downs. The two characters, as engaging as they are with each other and how supportive they are together, never lose that thought of individuality, in the sense that they never forget that they themselves need to succeed before their relationship can succeed. The decision that they take towards the end of the film reaffirms the love for each other while also being able to mutually sacrifice aspects of their relationship because at the head of their relationship was always each other’s careers and aspirations.
Many films and directors of films would feel the need to reacquaint the two leads had they broken up during the film even if that reacquaintance felt unnatural and wayward. However, director Damien Chazelle, he of Whiplash fame from 2014, ensures that whatever happens with each character, happens because it is what would happen in the real world, as naturally as possible. He never feels the need to rush any part of their relationship, never feels the need to make things rosy at every single point, never feels the need to get Seb and Mia back together once they break up; everything that happens in the film can be imagined as happening in real life.
That is probably the greatest success of the film. Sure, the score and the music is absolutely wonderful, the cinematography is gorgeous but its the story and the characters within that construct that make it come alive, and the journey of the relationships is what heightens the incredible ending of the film. If there’s one thing that will slightly reduce the grade of this film, is that the film does have points which are slightly uneven in their pacing, however, you will hardly remember that once the ending rolls around.
The ending of the film can only be described as an emotional wallop to the audience. The film builds up to the eventual meeting of the two characters five years later, but its sequence in the epilogue to show us “what could’ve been” is one of the best, and one of the most heartfelt sequences I’ve seen in a long time. I feel I’ve spoiled enough of the film, that there will now be a Spoiler Alert tag added to the beginning of this review, but even with that tag, I don’t think I should or I can reveal how the ending is portrayed in the film. It is simply something that needs to be experienced after watching the first 110 minutes of the film.
Now, how can we forget about the other critical aspect of this film, when it is the feature that includes it in the musical genre, YES, the music part of musical. Maestro Justin Hurwitz has done it. What he has done constructing this uplifting, emotional soundtrack and score are beyond recognizable. For fans of Whiplash, the jazz in the film will bring you straight back into familiar territory, but for music fans in general, this film has it all and everyone will be able to enjoy the beautiful construct of the score.
Alongside the score, the choreography for the dancing needs to be recognized and for the work of choreographer Mandy Moore, but more importantly the work put in by the actors to successfully perform each and every dance in the film, to which even I was tapping along whenever a song and dance would come up. Simply astounding!
You know when they say that you spot perfection from a mile away, they (?!) were definitely talking about the cinematography of La La Land. Perfect, absolutely perfect. Linus Sandgren has absolutely nailed what Chazelle would seemingly have wanted to show on screen. The outstanding feature of this film is the theatre like production where whenever one of the performances begin, the lighting and the camera work shifts from a film set to a theatre set, while still being on that film set. There is a spotlight placed on the performer and the camera starts to zoom in and focus on the performer in question. This technique is most effective when Gosling’s character Seb performs his solos on the piano, however, there are variants of the technique used in all the songs.
The dances are also covered in such a way that the focus remains on the characters and not on their dancing. By focusing on the characters, we get an emphasis on the dancing while at the same time being able to focus on each character and their emotions throughout their performance.
La La Land nails it, it simply nails it! From the story to the direction to the score and to the cinematography, it nails everything so beautifully. There is a balance to this film that is not often seen in film, and La La Land is right up there with the best of the genre. A genre that has not seen the best of days recently and maybe this will be the film to kickstart the release of more successful musicals.
La La Land receives my prediction to win Best Picture and a very high grade of A+ (9.6/10).