This week kicks off the real awards season rumble with the launch of the Venice Film Festival and the debut of what looked like two contenders – Derek Cianfrance’s period drama “The Light Between Oceans” and Damien Chazelle’s “La La Land”. The first dozen or so critical reviews for ‘Oceans’ are out and have not been good, and many more will find out for themselves when the film opens in the United States this Friday.
“La La Land” on the other hand, which doesn’t open theatrically until later this year, has just had its first screening at Venice and the first reviews are in from some top-tier critics. The results? Near unanimous raves for the old fashioned musical about an aspiring jazz pianist (Ryan Gosling) who falls for a struggling actress (Emma Stone) in contemporary Los Angeles.
An original musical as opposed to a jukebox musical that uses existing pop songs (ala “Moulin Rouge,” “Happy Feet”) or an adaptation of a stage musical (ala “Chicago,” “Grease”), there’s a lot of love for its upbeat and retro styling. Here’s some sample quotes:
“Whether it is a dazzling song and dance opening set in a massive traffic jam on an L.A. freeway, or a spectacular sequence with Gosling and Stone flying high into the skies of the Griffith Observatory the musical numbers soar with their own vibrancy and urgency. We live in hard times but this is a movie worth savoring, something that entertains, enlightens and makes us feel good about being alive. It is not to be missed by anyone who still cares for the future of the American musical.” – Pete Hammond, Deadline
“La La Land isn’t a masterpiece (and on some level it wants to be). Yet it’s an exciting ramble of a movie, ardent and full of feeling, passionate but also exquisitely – at times overly – controlled. It winds up swimming in melancholy, yet its most convincing pleasures are the moments when it lifts the audience into a state of old-movie exaltation, leading us to think, ‘What a glorious feeling. I’m happy again.'” – Owen Gleiberman, Variety
“All the same, for Chazelle to be able to pull this off the way he has is something close to remarkable. The director’s feel for a classic but, for all intents and purposes, discarded genre format is instinctive and intense; he really knows how to stage and frame dance and lyrical movement, to transition smoothly from conventional to musical scenes, to turn naturalistic settings into alluring fantasy backdrops for set pieces, and to breathe new life into what many would consider cobwebbed cliches.” – Todd McCarthy, The Hollywood Reporter
“Fans of musicals will adore this sparkling cinematic love letter, and if others are slow to embrace it, Chazelle’s screenplay sees them coming. ‘You don’t think it’s too nostalgic?’ asks Mia, regarding her play. ‘That’s the point!’ responds Sebastian. Mia: ‘And if people don’t like it?’ Sebastian: ‘F–k ’em!'” – Alonso Duhalde, The Wrap
The film is currently targeting a December 2nd release in the United States.