La La Land, relates to jazz, let’s talk about that, shall we, in a number of ways both obvious and not-so. But beyond its theme is an old fashioned girl-meets-guy/guy-meets-girl movie soaked in romance and Hollywood legend. Oh first of all it is very good: it is more of a jazz film than When Harry Met Sally which it resembles on one small level even if the jazz there is only the music of Harry Connick Jr. On a wider level Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling in the lead roles have the rapport that Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal had in that late-1980s Rob Reiner-directed classic (the 80s, somehow in the mind’s eye are poked fun at in the A-ha/A Flock of Seagulls cover band open air party sequence where the Stone character Mia really starts to shine).
Why it is more of a jazz film is in the subject matter as jazz of course gets talked about but Mia and Seb are drawn together because of the fact that they are two young people trying to make it in acting and in music. Even more, they fall for one another and that is paramount in terms of everything that follows. Mia doesn’t like jazz at all, Seb is a pianist and wannabe club owner smitten by the music he loves and who is passionate about it to the nth degree. And yet ironically gets to go on the road with a band, fronted by Keith (John Legend) after they get a major label deal, playing what instead sounds like pop/R&B however snazzy the keyboard and photo opportunities are, a move that nearly ruins his relationship with Mia whose one woman show he neglects to turn up to. The crux of all this is that Seb has to be true to his heart, his honest interest in jazz and more importantly not forget about his relationship while he is distracted by earning a living with a crossover band. Make no mistake, although some writers already have, La Land Land is not a commentary on the state of jazz so it cannot be pilloried for that! No feature film about jazz using at the very least its musical essence for atmosphere, even the greatest (eg Knife in the Water, Round Midnight, Kansas City) based on a fiction can. Fact.
The romance is as jazz-laden in a West Coast if you posit versus East Coast comparison as Woody Allen has cultivated via the overarching image of New York down the years and the observatory scenes where the couple yes fly have up to that point an Annie Hall feel. The songs, like songs from a toothsome musical (not ‘jazz songs’, these operate on a different harmonic level), work well built up on tiny motifs, music overall is by Justin Hurwitz complete with swooning strings when necessary (lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul), you’re humming along and letting your tongue think about mouthing the words before the taste of the popcorn has even gone stale.
Director Damien Chazelle knows his jazz and it shows. The best scenes are when Seb is playing Christmas tunes in the restaurant and when Seb is in his apartment getting up to speed playing latin-jazz along to a record. The what might have been montages and lightly drawn missed opportunities pathos ultimately lift the story-telling to a new level and put their seal on the high level of imagining that the film conjures. Emma Stone as Mia acts everyone off the set. SG. In La La Land, above, Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling