By Jake Howell jake.howell@utoronto.ca

Toronto Review: LA LA LAND

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When a movie like La La Land is so buzzed about and this heavily lauded, it can feel when you’re trying to write a review, you’re only chiming in rather than saying anything fresh or interesting. “It’s a Best Picture racehorse,” you’ll read; “It’s a prizewinner in any regard,” handicappers agree; “It’s an astounding, fantastic, emotionally overwhelming American m-o-v-i-e movie,” your musically-inclined movie-going friends (or parents) will sing. It’s great. It’s grand. I loved it. You will too.

And yet this Ryan Gosling-Emma Stone musical love-letter duet to creativity is not my favorite film at TIFF; it may not crack my top five of the year.

How can a film so intensely gorgeous and show-stopping as La La Land not find lodge in my mind? I keep forgetting I have seen it. In the days following the Toronto premiere of Damien Chazelle’s legitimately monumental effort, I find myself more drawn to thinking about the wispy, ethereal darkness of Nocturnal Animals and the study in subtlety of Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight. (Not to mention the three (!) masterpieces from earlier festivals, Paterson, Toni Erdmann, and Manchester by the Sea.) These movies may not stick around as long as La La Land (especially at the box-office) but they are certainly riskier in ways that resonate and register beyond my serotonin levels.

Maybe this isn’t fair. Unrelated comparisons suck as much as indiscriminate movie cynicism. La La Land’s energetic and vibrant pastiche of Old Hollywood practices and obsolete forms of expression result in an indelible movie. My face was warm throughout; I was out of breath at its emotional finale. It’s two hours of frisson, anchored by a wonderful Emma Stone performance that needs only two words (“I Ran!”) to demonstrate how truly fun and escapist it is.

The idea that a movie is faultless is crazy, because perfection is an intangible, untenable ideal. But 31-year-old Chazelle has managed to get near, arriving at an extremely close sweet spot of accessible depth and toe-tapping entertainment. If it survives the award-season onslaught of negative knee-jerking (just look at what became of The Artist), you can wave hello to a new American classic. If this is cotton candy, it’s woven from the clouds of movies beloved by millions.

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“I never accepted the term contrarian. I think that’s offensive, frankly. And my response to that is: if I’m a contrarian, what are other reviewers? What I strive to do is be a good critic, not somebody who simply accepts the product put in front of me. I guess it scares people to think that they don’t have any originality; that they don’t have the capacity to think for themselves.

“There’s a line a lot of reviewers use that I don’t like at all. They say ‘accept the film on its own terms.’ What that really means is, ‘accept the film as it is advertised.’ That’s got nothing to do with criticism. Nothing to do with having a response as a film watcher. A thinking person has to analyze what’s on screen, not simply rubber-stamp it or kowtow to marketing.”m

“To me, everything does have a political component and I think it’s an interesting way to look at art. It’s one way that makes film reviewing, I think, a politically relevant form of journalism. We do live in a political world, and we bring our political sense to the movies with us – unless you’re the kind of person who goes to the movies and shuts off the outside world. I’m not that kind of person.”
~ Armond White to Luke Buckmaster

“One of comedy’s defining pathologies, alongside literal pathologies like narcissism and self-loathing, is its swaggering certainty that it is part of the political vanguard, while upholding one of the most rigidly patriarchal hierarchies of any art form.”
~ Lindy West