Monday, December 19, 2016

La La Land is a Holiday Treat

By now you've heard the news - Hollywood is bringing back the musical - and so far the hype has been nothing but positive. Young writer and director Damien Chazelle's fun and fantastic new musical feature La La Land has been exciting audiences and making the obligatory holiday season film-going a true pleasure. La La Land is quite simply a lot of fun, and the challenge of engaging contemporary audiences with a good old-fashioned musical has been accomplished. From the opening number, you can tell it's going to be a fun ride, and if that opening scene doesn't pull you in, then you are no fan of musicals.

The story is a classic romance set against the age-old quest of seeking fame and success in the City of Angels. Emma Stone's "Mia" is the aspiring actress whose chance encounter with Ryan Gosling's "Sebastian," a jazz piano player who has dreams of opening a jazz club, sets up the central conflict and give-and-take relationship. While neither actor is a trained singer, dancer, or musician, their authentic portrayals are part of the charm of the film. Stone's voice is just strong enough to carry the tunes with a hint of amateur raspiness, and while Gosling's is clearly not a singing voice, he brings the necessary soul to his numbers. The same can be said for their dance scenes which are nothing short of adorable. I went in to the film only knowing the most basic elements, and I was pleasantly surprised with how much I enjoyed getting to know the characters.


Obviously the film is going to depend on some pretty standard boy-meets/gets/loses-girl conceits, and I wasn't surprised by any of the somewhat cliched beats to the film. Setting various acts and transitions against the (never-changing) seasons in LA was amusing as it should have been. And the wonderful interplay of music and drama more than made up for the obviousness. Hollywood and Broadway have been down the meta-path of staging musicals so many times that a re-tread of aspiring and artists trying to make it in a cold, heartless LA was not too disappointing. And the film put some nice touches on the genre. The cinematography alone could be worthy on an Oscar statue, and the music - along with Sebastian's passionate defense of the art form - was just a lot of fun.

That said, I don't like the ending. The mix-and-mash of possiblities at the end was amusing, no doubt. And the filmmaking was poetic. But I just don't buy the timeline or the supposed "success" of Mia. Had it been ten years down the road, I would have been more inclined to accept her success and marriage and child. Even then, she seems to be with exactly the type of man she left Seb for in the first place. And when she ends with "I will always love you," the sentiment is robbed by her quick exit into another relationship. So, Chazelle (or someone) certainly went the wrong way with that ending for obvious reasons. But it is the obvious lacking element of an otherwise beautiful film.

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