Writer/director Damien Chazelle made a splash in 2014 with his second feature-length directorial effort, Whiplash: the tale of a wannabe professional drummer (Miles Teller) and his instructor-from-hell (J.K. Simmons in an Oscar-winning turn). Chazelle is following up that film this year with La La Land, a salute to old-school musicals that appears to have less in common with Whiplash and more with Chazelle’s first movie as director, the low-budgeted 2009 musical Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench. Guy and Madeline and La La Land are musicals that share a boy-meets-girl premise anyway, with Crazy, Stupid Love and Gangster Squad costars Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone as the blooming lovers in the latter.
La La Land has been picking up awards buzz of late, following the release of a pair of teaser trailers (you can watch one of them, above) showcasing the film’s visually-striking vision of Los Angeles as well as a couple of the original songs performed by Gosling and Stone’s characters: a wizened jazz pianist and aspiring actress making their way in the City of Angels, respectively. Chazelle’s new film doesn’t open in theaters until this upcoming December, but critics in attendance at the 2016 Venice Film Festival were among the first to get a glimpse of the movie and see if it’s worthy of the expectations surrounding it.
We have collected SPOILER-FREE excerpts from several of the first La La Land reviews to emerge online (following its Venice Film Festival premiere), for your reading convenience. Those who are interested in checking out the full reviews ahead of time can do so by clicking the corresponding links included with each excerpt below.
Variety – Owen Gleiberman
Damien Chazelle’s “La La Land,” which opened the Venice Film Festival on a voluptuous high note of retro glamour and style, is the most audacious big-screen musical in a long time, and — irony of ironies — that’s because it’s the most traditional. In his splashy, impassioned, shoot-the-moon third feature, Chazelle, the 31-year-old writer-director of “Whiplash,” pays meticulous homage to the look and mood and stylized trappings of the ardent Hollywood musicals of the ’40s and, especially, the ’50s: glorious soundstage spectacles of star-spangled color and rapture. A lot of people still find vintage musicals corny or think (mistakenly) that they’re quaint. Yet the form remains stubbornly alive in the bones of our culture, which is why it feels so right in “La La Land”…
THR – Todd McCarthy
If you’re going to fall hard for Damien Chazelle’s daring and beautiful La La Land, it will probably be at first sight. There’s never been anything quite like the opening sequence… Aside from wondering how the filmmakers managed the logistics of pulling off such an audacious location shoot, lovers of classic musicals will be swept away by this utterly unexpected and original third feature from Damien Chazelle (opening this year’s Venice Film Festival). From a commercial point of view, the looming question for this Summit/Lionsgate release, set for December openings, is whether younger audiences will buy into the traditional conceits that Chazelle has revitalized, as well as into the jazz and lyrical song-and-dance numbers that fill the soundtrack.
The Guardian – Peter Bradshaw
[La La Land is] an unapologetically romantic homage to classic movie musicals, splashing its poster-paint energy and dream-chasing optimism on the screen. With no little audacity, La La Land seeks its own place somewhere on a continuum between Singin’ in the Rain and Woody Allen’s Everyone Says I Love You, with a hint of Alan Parker’s Fame for the opening sequence… To be honest, this is where an audience might find its tolerance for this picture’s unironic bounce tested, coming as it does right at the top of the show. It takes a little while to get acclimatized… But very soon I was utterly absorbed by this movie’s simple storytelling verve and the terrific lead performances from Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone…
Deadline – Pete Hammond
Coming off the promise of the Oscar winning Whiplash, it will be no surprise that writer/director Damien Chazelle is a talented filmmaker, but that movie did not prepare me for the experience of seeing La La Land, his homage to the great screen musicals of French director Jacques Demy as well as MGM’s golden era. But this is too smart a movie maker to just do a simple tribute to a bygone era, his film starring Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone is a gorgeous romantic fever dream of a musical that should hit contemporary audiences right in their sweet spot.
The Wrap – Alonso Duralde
[La La Land is] an ambitious new musical that turns a very recognizable Los Angeles into a singing, dancing land of dreams. In the way that French New Wave filmmaker Jacques Demy made the locales of “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg” and “The Young Girls of Rochefort” into workaday natural settings that were also vividly colored backdrops for sudden bursts of music, the Los Angeles of “La La Land” doesn’t spare us the traffic jams, but it also allows its characters to open the back of a stalled truck to reveal a jazz combo… Fans of musicals will adore this sparkling cinematic love letter, and if others are slow to embrace it, Chazelle’s screenplay sees them coming…
Indiewire – Eric Kohn
It’s been decades since a studio produced the kind of colorful musical fantasy that “La La Land” so affectionately salutes, but writer-director Damien Chazelle is the guy for the job. Before his breakout drama “Whiplash,” Chazelle made the 2009 microbudget “Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench,” a gentle, scrappy, song-and-dance tale of an aspiring jazz trumpeter and the woman who falls for him. That movie now looks like the dry run for this grander spectacle, his third feature — another story about singing, dancing lovers struggling with modern concerns. Carved from the legacies of Vincente Minnelli, Jacques Demy, and so many others, “La La Land” is magically in tune with its reference points even as falls a few notes short of their greatness.
Lastly, you can check out the Venice Film Festival premiere poster for La La Land, below:
So far, the initial reception for La La Land has been (essentially) universally-positive, as these review excerpts are a testament to. The only semi-critical point raised in just about every review of the film thus far is that it probably will have limited appeal, based on the (fair) assumption that its unabashed nostalgic outlook is not going to be everyone’s cup of tea. Nevertheless, it sounds as though those who have been enchanted by La La Land‘s marketing to date ought to find the movie to be equally pleasing. Stone, speaking at the Venice Film Festival (via Deadline), expressed her hope that the film’s romantic outlook will also encourage people (younger people in particular) to be less cynical in general:
“This movie is in no way cynical. It’s about dreaming and hoping and working towards something to achieve something. I think young people have fallen into a lot of cynicism and making fun of things and pointing out the flaws in everything and this movie is anything but that. So it’s a huge joy to be able to show it to young people. This is what I hope young people will do is work hard to achieve their dreams, and hope instead of being cynical.”
Who knows: by the time December rolls around and theaters are flooded with tentpoles such as Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and Assassin’s Creed, La La Land should stand out all the more as something quite different. Big screen musicals such as Annie and Into the Woods have performed well enough at the December box office in recent years too – and there are a handful of musicals currently in development that are similarly scheduled to arrive in December in the years ahead, in the hope of emulating their success (see The Greatest Showman on Earth, Mary Poppins Returns and Wicked). For related reasons, La La Land may yet manage to carve itself out a decent-sized slice of the box office pie when it arrives.
La La Land opens in U.S. theaters in a limited release on December 2nd, 2016. It goes wide two weeks later on December 16th.
Source: Various (see the above links)