Logan Kenny’s review published on Letterboxd:
he gets a lot of shit due to the insane amount of hype he got following Whiplash, but what a technically proficient filmmaker Damien Chazelle is. shoots the hell out of every scene, with his impeccable understanding of how to film a concert coming across most obviously on this viewing for me. is obviously boosted by his cinematographer and editor but what filmmaker isn’t? Chazelle directs this movie with such swagger and confidence but he never oscillates into corniness or tacky show off tactics, it’s the balance of a filmmaker who knows what he’s doing and knows exactly how he’s going to tell the story. important to mention that he basically stomps on the fine line between homage and straight up thievery, lifting the entire ending sequence from The Umbrellas of Cherbourg and devoting himself to the nostalgic hues of classic musicals to the extent where it feels like all of his own originality could be surpassed by the work of others. however, like all the modern greats with a tendency to take a little more than influence from their idols, such as PTA, Chazelle adapts the work of Demy and Donen among others into his own idiosyncratic dispute between traditionalism and progressivism in artistic spaces. it’s less a movie about a relationship (although it is a very good one) and being caught in a battle between your own love for the roots of something and the necessities of change to that art form. using a relationship to further that metaphor is interesting, with both realising that their views on life and artistic experiences are fundamentally different, allowing each other to embrace their own ways of looking at the world from a distance. obviously the relationship is used as an expansion of the idea that one is obsessed with things remaining the way they were, not adapting well to the possibility of an artform or a person changing, so there is inherent doom to his positioning in a musical scene and a partnership where change is constant and essential.
it could easily come across as didactic and obvious metaphorically if Chazelle didn’t make you believe in the power of their romance through the Planetarium and City of Stars sequences, on top of Gosling and Stone’s once in a lifetime level chemistry. that City of Stars montage in particular is absolutely wonderful filmmaking, manages to encapsulate all the beauties of head over heels love, the dream period of a relationship in just a couple of minutes. the colours are luscious especially those purples in Emma Stone’s segments, the music is beautiful and the editing’s rhythms are perfectly timed to help you lose yourself in the romance on display. it is a wonderful con job on the behalf of Chazelle to make this work as a straight up romantic musical, when he is literally just making a movie about how scared he is that art is changing in front of his eyes, not being sure what to do about it, and embracing the coalescence of past and present to hope that it forges a future.
so much of art is built upon people taking ideas, images, textures from the work they love, adding their own spins to it and putting it out in the world for someone else to find inspiration from. this is a movie about a character who can’t shake the fact that the past needs to be incorporated into the present, who will sacrifice a stable job and in some ways, a relationship, in order to further paint the portrait of artistic enlightenment he believes in. this is a movie that is all about nostalgia, all about the hesitation to move forward, the embrace of the past even if it means the future comes a little slower. it’s Chazelle’s weakest since he broke out because ironically, he is a much stronger filmmaker overall (not just technically) when he’s approaching subject matter in his own ways, with First Man being one of the great masterpieces of the 21st century. but it is a fascinating and more thorny film about artistic consumption and the battles we fight to keep things the same than even some of its fans give it credit for.
and even if you don’t buy into any of it and think Chazelle’s a bitch for stealing Umbrellas’ ending or that he’s a fraud for depicting jazz in this way, I still think that the ending will work on some level for most people. he believes in it, which is why the whole con works. even in the midst of his neurotic artistry, he does care about these characters, their doomed romanticism and using cinema as a form of fantasy for all the worlds that will never be. he embraces those moments where it doesn’t matter if cinema or jazz is dying, where the realties of romance have faded into blissful dreams, and buys into a few moments of perfection before the lights turn back on. I still love this movie a whole lot.