Winter. Spring. Summer. Fall.
If you have recently watched Gilmore Girls: A Year In the Life – the old WB television classic’s revival on Netflix – you may be forgiven for thinking you have stepped into Stars Hollow on the big screen. Yes, that familiar sight you see is, indeed, the Warner Bros Studio lot in Los Angeles.
Let me backtrack a little here. La La Land opens with a sight familiar to Los Angelenos: sunshine and stationary traffic, the kind that turns a freeway into a parking lot. But this is a musical, so of course, the drivers soon get out of their cars in frustration and start to dance and sing. Think Cliff Richard in Summer Holiday or just about any Elvis musical. This being Los Angeles where the sun always shines (when you see through the smog and haze) so the costumes are all bursting with colour (think West Side Story).
But unlike the Elvis musicals, La La Land also has a strong plot, bringing together big-screen darlings – Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling – for their third outing. Mia (Stone) is a struggling actress working in the cafe on the Warner Bros Studio lot where “real” movie stars frequent in between takes. Sebastian (Gosling) is a jazz pianist with dreams of opening his own jazz club while trying to make ends meet playing Christmas jingles in Bill’s (J.K. Simmons) restaurant.Neither is having much success in their pursuits – audition waiting rooms are filled with dozens of other actresses who look alike, and jazz is a dying art. Months later, the pair meet again at a Hollywood party where Sebastian is playing in an ’80s tribute boy band, and as they say, one thing leads to another – the “other” being a dance number reminiscent of Fred and Ginger – the two start to fall in love.
Over the next couple of seasons, Mia decides to write her own play after getting more rejections, while Sebastian receives an offer to go on the road with an old “frenemy”, Keith (John Legend), who reminds him that music evolves and that he cannot remain stuck in his old ideals of what music is. Theirs is a story as old as time. But there is so much more (which I don’t want to spoil for anyone who has yet to see this movie).
If you like old-school Hollywood musicals with all their romance and grand gestures, then La La Land delivers with its stunning and colourful costumes and dance sequences (my favourite is the one inside Griffiths Observatory). Or perhaps you just love seeing the chemistry between Stone and Gosling – and who doesn’t love this pair ever since they Dirty-Dancing-leapt into our hearts in Crazy, Stupid, Love in 2011. Although I enjoyed the film as a whole, it is the final few minutes that most impress me and set this film apart from a typical “Hollywood” ending.
Written and directed by Damien Chazelle, La La Land opens in Australia on Boxing Day but has been in previews.