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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“Why put it in a box? This is the number one problem I have—by the way it’s a fair question, I’m not saying that—with this kind of festival situation is that there’s always this temptation to classify the movie immediately and if you look at it—and I’ve tried to warn my fellow jurors of this—directors and movie critics are the worst people to judge movies! Directors are always thinking, “I could do that.” Critics are always saying, “This part of the movie is like the 1947 version and this part…” And it’s like, “Fuck! Just watch the movie and try and absorb it and not compare it to some other fucking movie and put it in a box!” So I think the answer’s both and maybe neither, I don’t know. That’s for you to see and criticize me for or not.”
~ James Gray

“I have long defined filmmaking and directing in particular as just a sort of long-term act of letting go,” she said. “It’s honestly just gratifying that people are sort of reapproaching or reassessing the film. I like to just remind everyone that the movie is still the same — it’s the same movie, it’s the movie we always made, and it was the movie we always wanted to make. And maybe it just came several years too early.”
~ Karyn Kusama