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TIFF Review: La La Land -“If you could put joy on a screen this is what it would look like.”

La La Land

It’s rare the film that meets all the positive hype you’ve heard before you enter the theatre.  We can all remember times that a movie was heralded as the next great thing only to be disappointed when leaving the cinema. But La La Land is not that movie.  In fact it may just surpass every expectation you have.

Zoom in on Mia (Emma Stone), an aspiring actress working as a barista on the Warner Bros. lot.  Her cafe is across the street from part of the Casablanca set, a constant reminder of her dreams.  She whiles away her days at auditions where she is constantly interrupted and rejected.  She has a couple of chance encounters with Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), a jazz musician who seems bitter at his lack of success, yet enthusiastic about his music, before they eventually have an enchanting moment at a party that makes the meetings stick.

But unlike a typical flirtation, they tap dance.  They sing.  Because in this reality spontaneously breaking into song is what you do.  And it works from the first frame to the last.  Despite the fantasy though, their relationship is quickly immersed in reality when each follow their own dreams, or at least try to fulfill the expectations of those around them.  Their love story is a bittersweet reminder of how distracting life can really be.

Stone and Gosling, while neither are particularly vocally talented, compliment each other in every way, as you would expect considering this is their third film together.  It takes years to build the comfort and trust that is present on screen.  Their voices are able to meld exceedingly well, and when it comes to solos Emma Stone’s single shot rendition of the song ‘Audition’ is likely to become as iconic as this film itself.  The pair are resplendent and riveting on screen.  They are also talented at comedic timing with one another, and it makes you wish Gosling did more lighthearted fare (hoping this is a trend of late).

Writer and director Damien Chazelle has crafted himself an instant classic, modern yet with a nostalgic charm.  Films like this just aren’t made anymore.  The opening shot is a rousing musical number that appears to have been shot completely uncut, choreographed both from a musical but also from a directorial perspective with precision and expertise.  From beginning to end La La Land is a feast for the senses with beautiful colours and sweeping camera work.  Chazelle is a true talent behind the camera, and his love for music (as was also evident in Whiplash) is ever present.

In a cinematic world where sequels and superhero movies seem to reign the box office, it will be truly spectacular if this original piece of filmmaking can break through. If you could put joy on a screen this is what it would look like.  The entire moviegoing experience is here in one film.  There is laughter, tears, great music, unmistakable talent.  There will also be Oscars, and deservedly so.


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