After a year peppered with cinematic disappointments, the Academy quickly jumped on musical comedy La La Land hailing it as an Oscar favourite when it was released in late 2016. The film swept the Golden Globes and it looks set to win many more awards.
Emma Stone is Mia, an aspiring actress who spends her time working in a coffee shop and running to auditions. She meets jazz pianist Sebastian, whose dream it is to start his own jazz club, and they hit it off. As their respective dreams start going off track, so does their relationship. Director Damien Chazelle, who impressed a few years ago with the excellent, low-key drama Whiplash, this time tries his hand at an old-fashioned Hollywood musical complete with romance, tap-dancing and fancy sets, charming the pants out of everyone effortlessly. This is a stylish, gorgeous-looking movie packed with fantastic music, great performances and snappy writing. Even the casting of Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling is inspired as their singing voices, which never go over-the-top Broadway-style, bring vulnerability to their characters, making them feel more like the underdogs they're meant to be.
Unlike The Artist, which payed homage to the silent era in cinema by trying to mimic the look and feel of old silent movies, La La Land takes a more modern approach and only occasionally indulges in direct stylistic throwback moments. In fact, it's when the film focuses on its characters and the story that it shines, any distraction from that falls completely flat. The opening sequence, while energetic, is just much too big and happy for no good reason making it come off as obnoxious. Mia singing in her apartment with characters we barely ever see again also doesn't feel entirely necessary and neither does the scene where Mia and Sebastian literally fly into space and dance among the stars. Luckily, the film is good enough to quickly make you forget about its lesser moments as some genuinely good song and dance numbers pop up and the bittersweet love story develops.
For all its fluff and the odd corny bit here and there, La La Land is the best new movie musical we've had in a while and that's definitely worth celebrating. The leads are irresistible, as is the music throughout, and what the film lacks in complexity and focus it makes up for in style and charm.