There’s a scene in Damien Chazelle’s razzle-dazzle musical La La Land where Mia, an aspiring actress, reads her one-woman play to her boyfriend Sebastian a jazz pianist. “It feels really nostalgic to me,” she says. “Are people going to like it?” Flippantly, he replies, “Fuck ‘em.”
As with much of Chazelle’s handsome genre renovation, this is a knowing exchange. La La Land is a blissful love-letter to a golden age of Hollywood movies, full of big emotions and unselfconsciously joyous romantic ideals. Characters burst into song during big old dance numbers that wouldn’t look out of place in an RKO musical. There are mobile phones and drum machines – but although no one quite swings off a lamppost in the rain, to all intents and purposes, this is 1952. In La La Land, old fleapits are preferable venues for dates – where better to watch a classic movie, after all? – while Sebastian has to choose between pursuing his dream of opening a modest jazz venue (good) versus making a ton of cash with an old pal’s immensely popular fusion band (bad). There is a scene set inside the Griffith Observatory high atop the hills of Los Angeles where Sebastian and Mia kiss, dance and fly.
As his leads, Chazelle casts Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone. It is easy to see why this is their third collaboration together: they zing like a Hawks double act. Gosling strikes a good balance between rueful and wise-cracking; Stone brims with wit and intelligence. An early scene, where Mia bumps into Sebastian at a pool party where – humiliatingly – he is making ends meet playing keytar in a tacky Eighties’ covers band, is heroically funny.
Chazelle follows the short, sharp shock of Whiplash with something a little fizzier, but by no means is La La Land throwaway. For all its bounce, Chazelle takes a shrewd and focused view of nostalgia: Sebastian and Mia chat Bringing Up Baby, Casablana, Notorious and Rebel Without A Cause. At one point, Sebastian asks, “Why do you say ‘romantic’ like it’s a dirty word?”
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The February 2017 issue of Uncut is now on sale in the UK – featuring our cover story on Leonard Cohen. Elsewhere in the issue, we look at the 50 Great Modern Protest Songs and our free CD collects 15 of the very best, featuring Ry Cooder, Jarvis Cocker, Roy Harper, Father John Misty, Hurray For The Riff Raff and Richard Thompson. The issue also features our essential preview of the key albums for 2017, including Roger Waters, Fleet Foxes, Paul Weller, The Jesus And Mary Chain, the Waterboys and more. Plus Leon Russell, Mike Oldfield, Ty Segall, Tift Merritt, David Bowie, Japandroids, The Doors, Flaming Lips, Wilco, The XX, Grateful Dead, Mark Eitzel and more plus 139 reviews