Sunday, December 25, 2016

Review of "La La Land": Singing In The Pain

A musical in the spirit of MGM's glory days?
Sure, Disney's done that for years, mainly with snow princesses, beauties and beasts. It's tough to do that with regular actors.

It's been a dream of Damien Chazelle to make such a film, especially after his excellent debut as writer and director of Whiplash. It came true in a big way when La La Land premiered in Venice last summer, then slowly but surely caught the eyes and praise of critics everywhere. It's only been in release for three weeks, and if it hasn't reached the hinterlands, it will very soon.

The story is about two people with dreams:  Mia (Emma Stone), a barista who dreams of being an actress, and Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), a jazz pianist who prefers traditional jazz and wants to open his own club.
They sort of meet in a traffic jam, but see each other at a restaurant just as Sebastian is canned for not following the set list. They don't hit it off at first, but in musicals like these, they do.

What's interesting is that we get a good look at their struggles. Mia tries to do an emotional scene but she's not even allowed to finish it. There's also a string of auditions that also don't go well. It's hard to figure anything else until Sebastian is forced to play in a band doing the worst '80s covers ever.

The main romance is depicted in excellent dance routines in classic L-A locations, even a routine at the Griffith Observatory that defies gravity. Their duet of the main song, "City of Stars" is also dreamy.
Things start to look up when Mia hopes to premiere a one-woman play while Sebastian joins a jazz band that becomes way too commercial, even if John Legend leads it. However, the love Mia and Sebastian share starts to fray, especially when she wonders if Seb is happy playing music he doesn't really prefer.

Usually in musicals, such a couple will wind up happily ever after, but Chazelle prefers to make one that's more realistic. Does that include "hopeful?"
Well, Mia does one more audition, and how Stone sells this story just may be enough to fend off a tight race for Best Actress at the Oscars next February. It's basic, but it blows you away.

Gosling and Stone make a fine romantic couple, as they did in two other movies. That may have helped here. They are a wonderful couple of dreamers who may reach their goals, but will have to make some sacrifices along with way.

It's going to battle Fences and Manchester By The Sea when award season gets underway in a few weeks, but La La Land shows that original musicals, just like the old days, can still be made.

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