In Review

Five reasons to watch La La Land - and one big criticism

As winter bites and a Trump presidency looms, escape into the dreamy charms of a musical

La La Land

Golden Globe record-breaker La La Land is released in UK cinemas today and while the musical is winning over audiences with its breezy style and charming stars, not everyone is convinced.

Written and directed by Damien Chazelle, best-known for his 2014 film Whiplash, about a music student and his demanding teacher, La La Land tells the story of aspiring actress Mia (Emma Stone) and a serious young jazz musician Sebastian (Ryan Gosling).

They meet while trying to find their footing in Los Angeles and the film explores their struggle to maintain a relationship while pursuing their dreams. After scooping the pool at the Golden Globes, La La Land is now tipped to win big at the Oscars.

Here are five reasons you should see it, plus one big criticism.

The stars

Gosling and Stone live up to the hype, says Gary Kramer in Salon. There's a "palpable chemistry" between them in their third film together and there are some "entrancing sequences" between Mia and Sebastian. It's a "worthy showcase for the magnificent Stone's talents, and she is heartbreaking throughout", says the critic, who adds: "Gosling is also in top form."

The music

Ian Freer at Empire calls La La Land "a funny Valentine" to the entire history of the musical genre. It also has a "clutch of great new songs", says the critic, and songwriters Justin Hurwitz, Benj Pasek and Justin Paul should "take a bow". It "opens spectacularly", with a traffic jam on the LA freeway that turns into a single-take song-and-dance number, says Deborah Ross in The Spectator, adding that she almost "expired with the enchanted gorgeousness of this film".

They don't make 'em like this any more

La La Land is "the nostalgic musical Millenials have been waiting for", says Katie Salisbury at Vice. Chazelle's "Technicolor triumph" is a "nostalgia-induced revival of classic Hollywood musicals", she says. The film "hit her like a tonne of bricks" and beyond "the dazzling sheen of dance numbers and heartfelt solos", it celebrates an "unwavering belief in the power of dreams". Meanwhile, the Washington Post's Ann Hornaday says Chazelle "seems to be staking his claim, not only as a passionate preserver of cinema's most cherished genres", but also a "saviour of the medium itself".

It's gorgeous - and so sunny

New Yorker critic Anthony Lane says La La Land "looks so delicious that I genuinely couldn't decide whether to watch it or lick it". Cinematographer Linus Sandgren shot it on film and the colours, rather than "merge into the landscape", seem to "burst in your face". Also, the weather is always great. While there's a "storm of singin'", says Lane, there's no rain. The clemency of the weather is "a God-given joke" and, even at Christmas, when Mia walks home after dark, she is clad as if for June.

 It will cheer you up

John Patterson at The Guardian says he fully expected to loathe the film, but was "swept away by La La Land's fierce ardour for its locale, its unapologetic romanticism and its kinetic perpetual motion (and emotion)". He adds it was the only time since 8 November that he was able to forget about Trump-World. "It made me happy, and it made me cry," he writes. "For that kindness alone, I give it best picture."

But does it 'whitesplain' jazz?

Before we get too carried away, it's worth noting that not everyone is won over by La La Land and that some have called it patronising and racist.

Ruby Lott Lavinga at Wired writes its "dream-like quality" can't hide its "dated" racial politics. The film "focuses on jazz while seemingly pushing the black Americans who pioneered the genre into the background", she says. Gosling portrays the "white man saviour", explaining how he will save jazz "while behind him black men play the music they created", she says. In conclusion, La La Land is fun, continues the critics, but it's a "whitewashed musical" and in 2016, "it's just not good enough to have a film with two white protagonists 'whitesplaining' a culture to emerge directly out of black American communities".

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