Category: At the Movies

At The Movies: La La Land

At The Movies: La La Land

I appreciate that not everyone has to be be this obsessed with La La Land:


But I’ve been struggling with some of the accusations made against this masterpiece: ‘it lacks plot!’ ‘Ryan and Emma can’t even dance- or sing!’, ‘its totally overrated!” and, worst of all, ‘it was okay’….

Although I understand that these (first 3) do contain elements of truth, for me, they are irrelevant.

As is inevitably the case with films which receive masses of hype, La La Land has also been hit by a flurry of backlash from those whose high expectations cannot possibly be met. And so I think that one of the reasons I love this movie so much is because I went into my screening without any pre-conceptions.

I was lucky enough to attend a screening of La La Land a few months ago, back when there were no reviews, and only one rather short enigmatic teaser to go by…

So it was with a jolt that I was launched into this exuberant musical reverie. As you probably know by now, the film opens with queues of frustrated passengers caught up on the LA highway. Chattering LA-ers, the beeping of car horns and the cacophony of sounds coming from car radios give us the impression that this truly is a city bustling with music. Director Chazelle takes inspiration from his own favourites, “…like in Mean Streets or Taxi Driver or Rear Window you’re hearing Italian opera coming from one apartment window and Frankie Vali from another and jazz from another. But this is Los Angeles. The cacophony of sounds is coming out of cars. And I loved the idea of presenting the soundscape of the city that way”. Fed up of waiting in line, one by one the drivers exit their vehicles and in a spectacular explosion of colour and sound, jump on top of their cars, proving that a bit of madness is key.


Interestingly, the very first edit of the film opened with an overture of credits before the camera swooped down to reveal Mia and Sebastian’s meet cute in their cars. But I think that by announcing the film by way of this spectacular 6 minute (made-to-look-like-a) vast singe shot, Chazelle assures us that this will be an explosive love letter to LA, on music and ambition.

I left the cinema feeling euphoric, unsure of whether to cry, run around, or just immediately book a flight to LA and try to live out the movie in real life!

So I think that to point to the ‘lack of plot’ would be to miss the crux of the film. As my friend (Mark) pointed out yesterday, there is no way that, after watching the opening car sequence, you would expect to find a thriller filled with twists and turns. Clearly, La La Land tells a pretty simple ‘boy meets girl’ story, but tells it with overwhelmingly breath-taking panache.

Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone do not dance to perfection, but the camera does; it swoops around them, capturing a sense of movement and excitement that may not have been possible had we been solely focused on the finesse of their movement. And where their dancing lacks, their performances more than make up for- Emma Stone is captivating throughout. Each minute facial expression reveals what she is thinking at every second. What more could the casting directors in her audition scene possibly have wanted from her?

Throughout the film, we can see clear parallels between La La Land’s Mia and Sebastian and Whiplash’s Andrew (Milles Teller). A clear theme is emerging in Chazelle’s work: clearly, he lauds tenacity and determination.


For me, the ending wasn’t unsatisfactory because the film wasn’t primarily about Mia and Sebastian’s relationship with each other; it was about the way it fostered their ambitions. So I don’t think it was necessary for them to stay together for their relationship to be perfect. It was perfect.

At the Movies: Manchester by the Sea

At the Movies: Manchester by the Sea

I totally accept that going to see a film in January that wasn’t La La Land was slightly insane…but I feel that after having seen it twice already, and knowing the soundtrack back to front (Ryan Gosling’s suit is wool- obviously) it was probably time to move on, and venture on to one of the (probable) ‘serious’ Oscar contenders….

Manchester by the Sea is writer/director Kenneth Lonergan‘s third film and stars Casey Affleck and Michelle Williams. The trailer promises us a bleak tale filled with woe and hope in which a man, upon learning of his brother’s death, must return to his hometown, (Manchester by the Sea) to look after his brother’s teenage son, and in doing so, ‘find himself’…probably not Just Another Day of Sun…

But the sincerity of the trailer doesn’t do this film justice…

Affleck plays Lee, an irascible, monosyllabic janitor who has absolutely no interest in forming any sort of relationship- with anyone. He regularly insults his customers and picks fights with random men in grotty bars. He is clearly disillusioned with life and appears intent on paying penance for his mysterious past. His return to Manchester by the Sea is met with whispers and shock: he is not just Lee Chandler but the Lee Chandler. Whatever he has done, or whatever has happened to him is apparently too horrific for discussion and we are left totally in the dark. Throughout the course of the film we learn about his past, his relationship with his wife (Michelle Williams) and his children. But nothing prepares us for the shocking revelation ¾ through the film where, suddenly, we understand.

But the film is so much more than a mere vehicle for this denouement. Many of the scenes appears as vignettes- totally compelling and complete in and of themselves. Odd moments of humour are played against maelstroms of tragedy (eg. Joe Chandler’s hospital diagnosis). And so, despite the plot not being the most original, the film feels completely fresh. In complete contrast to Clint Eastwood’s  Sully (the most recent film I’ve hated) Lonergan doesn’t simply pay lip service to his characters, he genuinely captures their nuances and eccentricities. And the dissonance of Casey Affleck’s Lee Chandler from an extraverted family man in the flashbacks to total gnomic loner left me with a sense of intrigue…

But the thing that jarred with me was the music, which felt somewhat incongruous. And although it worked at the start of the film and hinted to the fact that perhaps, all was not well, and there was something yet to be discovered, in some of the more overtly emotional moments, it felt a little overblown (notably in the funeral scene and in the final scene). But perhaps it was to the film’s credit that, bar a few moments, it didn’t try to force an emotional repose from its audience.

There’s a scene in a police station towards the end of the film in which Lee struggles with the idea that no one is to blame for the tragedy. And I think that moment was very revealing. Things are left unresolved and relationships cannot be salvaged. But the film offers no solution, nor any real redemption. No one is really to blame. And this makes it all the more devastating.

Honestly, the most sensible thing to do after coming out of a screening of Manchester by the Sea, is to walk straight into a screening of La La Land.