La La Land

La La Land

I've never been a huge fan of musicals. Well, actually, that's not quite true. I liked Grease when I was growing up, but that's because the adolescent me liked Sandy. Otherwise, I've never been able to get over that thing of people spontaneously bursting into song and dance.

Until recently, that is.

See, I was one of these people who really enjoyed Mamma Mia. Something about the sun-doused colours and the sheer sugary verve of that movie won me over. It should have been terrible, and I was fully expecting it to be, but it worked.

Which brings us to La La Land. This is one of those movies that has been pumped up with such incredible hype. If you've seen the posters you can't have missed the overwhelming number of five-stars and gushing praise. It's one of those movies you're almost afraid to watch because with such raised expectations you know you're bound to be disappointed. As with Mamma Mia, I was expecting the worst, but, remarkably, La La Land delivered oh so beautifully well.

It grabs you by the heart within seconds of the opening sequence with an incredible, joyful song and dance routine on a sun-blasted LA highway that is (almost) one long shot. It's a riot of colour and sound that you can't help tap your foot to. It involves you. That sense of involvement, right there, is the genius of the movie.

What works particularly well is the delicate and deft interwining of the big musical numbers with a bittersweet and sometimes melancholic love story. It's not schmaltzy in the way musicals (or any Hollywood love story for that matter) can so often be but instead has a kind of gritty realism along the lines of American Beauty or Lost in Translation. Yet it handles themes of nostalgia, big dreams, and compromised love with great tenderness. There's a humble, real quality to the dancing that warms the heart. The camera plays its part in this choreography by almost being another dance partner with the way it moves. The singing too is charmingly gentle – almost frail. It's perfect. It's this juxtaposition of saturated colours and subtle shades that makes it so captivating. It's at once nostalgic and thoroughly modern. It leaves an impression. It leaves you whistling the tunes and aching to see it again.

One of the most extraordinary scenes sees Mia, played by Emma Stone, talking on the phone. It's pure acting, camera fixed on her face as some unknown awful event plays out during the conversation. It's a masterclass in acting. Seriously, it doesn't get much better. What makes it even more extraordinary is that she is acting at acting - the scene is for an audition. It's utterly convincing and she is utterly brilliant. With this one scene Stone has surely marked herself as one of our very finest actors.

It is a film about so many things: passion, dreams, compromise, nostalgia, moving up and on, superficiality, integrity, values and quality. It's one of those films that sticks in your mind and won't leave you alone. It gently tugs you back in and, dare I say, waltzes with your mind. Perhaps for me the enduring and most surprising message is the strange perfectness of bittersweet imperfection. It's about two people finding their true love and at the same time losing their true love, and you're not quite sure which is for the best but you're left feeling ok with that – you're left with a sense of sweet ambivalence.

She told me:
"A bit of madness is key
To give us new colors to see
Who knows where it will lead us?
And that's why they need us"

So bring on the rebels
The ripples from pebbles
The painters, and poets, and plays

And here's to the fools who dream
Crazy as they may seem
Here's to the hearts that break
Here's to the mess we make