"La La Land" / "The Snow Queen"
Damien Chazelle’s third feature, “La La Land” starts as it means to go on, with an unashamedly lavish song and dance set-piece taking place in a Los Angeles traffic jam, immediately succeeded by a brief, surly encounter between the two characters who eventually turn out to be the principals: Emma Stone’s Mia, an aspiring actress, and Ryan Gosling’s Sebastian, an intense jazz pianist, who is something of a purist.
A slow-burning romance ensues, with the magical moments played out as classic widescreen movie musical numbers, enhanced by 21st century CGI. As the relationship progresses, however, the staging becomes more prosaic.
The theme of the piece is the importance of chasing one’s dreams, and the inevitable disappointments and compromises which one has to encounter; although in Sebastian’s case, the compromise involves a lucrative job in a pop/soul combo with old friend Keith (John Legend). Mia’s journey has a few more bumps in the road, but somehow one is never convinced that she is a failure-in-waiting.
Stone’s apparently effortless likeability is the film’s main selling-point, her open features regularly filling the screen; her soul-destroying audition scenes are particularly tense. Gosling’s character is more of a closed book, although it’s good to see him essaying light comedy, and his keyboard skills (mimed or otherwise) are impressive.
The overall impression is of experiencing a contemporary Broadway musical, complete with not-quite-memorable tunes. Technically, the film is a significant achievement, however, and it certainly hits home emotionally, the ending being especially clever.
“La La Land” is beautifully realised, and worthy of all the awards buzz, falling short only because it skimps on the darkness.
My hometown Christmas treat this year was “The Snow Queen” at the New Victoria Theatre in Newcastle-Under-Lyme (shamefully, my first visit in many years). This boasted a surprisingly large ensemble (compared to Cardiff productions), with many cast-members also part of the on-stage band in Theresa Heskins’ take on the Hans Christian Anderson classic. There were hints of Miss Havisham in the title character, folksy, Brecht-Weil-tinged songs, and a bit of a science-fiction spin at the denouement. Very enjoyable.