You will have to forgive me if I sound like a giddy schoolgirl as I reminisce about the wonder that is ‘La La Land’, but this movie was stunning.
As I mentioned yesterday while reviewing ‘Sing’, movie prices are high here in Australia, $21.50 a ticket is mad! So when a ‘Tight Tuesday’ comes around and the movies drop to $13 each it is time to act. With several great movies out at the moment the options were numerous and no movie would have been a mistake.
I have only recently joined the ‘La La Land’ bandwagon and I’m so pleased I didn’t watch it drive on by. In Australia we have ‘the cinemas’ where anything that you have seen advertised is playing, then we have ‘the arty cinemas’, ‘La La Land’, with it Musical characteristics, dancing, singing, Jazz soundtrack and old worldly charm have been deemed ‘Arty Cinema’. So off Em and I headed to ‘Cinema Europa’ (the side section of the popular cinema area away from the regular people and commercialism) and got our tickets to ‘La La Land’. In the past I have not been great at understanding metaphors and pretty much anything in Cinema Europa is a big gamble for me. After my loving wife told me “Don’t get too excited about this movie, you may not get it” I took her hand and walked in determined to ‘get it’.
‘La La Land’ is a 2016 American romantic musical comedy-drama film written and directed by Damien Chazelle (Whiplash) and starring Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, John Legend, Rosemarie DeWitt and J.K. Simmons. The plot follows a jazz musician and an aspiring actress who meet and fall in love in Los Angeles. The film’s title is a reference to both a nickname for the city of Los Angeles as well as a euphemism for a state of being out of touch with reality.
As a drummer himself, Damien Chazelle has a strong fondness for musical films. He wrote the screenplay for ‘La La Land’ in 2010 during a period in his life when the movie industry seemed out of reach. His idea of the film was “to take the old musical but ground it in real life where things don’t always exactly work out” and to pay homage and salute the courage of people with an unrealistic state of mind who move to Los Angeles to chase their dreams.
From the beginning, Chazelle wanted the film’s musical numbers to be filmed “head to toe,” using 50s style, wide-screen CinemaScope, and performed in a single take, like those of the works of Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire. The style and tone of the film was inspired by Jacques Demy’s The Umbrellas of Cherbourg and The Young Girls of Rochefort, which were dance and jazz oriented, and is filled with visual allusions to Hollywood classics like Broadway Melody of 1940, Singin’ in the Rain, and The Band Wagon. The film also shares a certain resemblance with his previous musical work, Whiplash, in terms of character development and themes, with Chazelle noting that “they’re both about the struggle of being an artist and reconciling your dreams with the need to be human. La La Land is just much less angry about it.”
There are so many things to love about this movie for me, the 50’s gentlemanly supportive charm of Gosling’s character, the musician storyline, the intrigue of the movies, throwback to quality human-centric non-CGI moviemaking, the underpinning undertone about the merits of traditionalist Jazz verses progressive Jazz and a realistic life-long love story.
Gosling and Stone are amazingly paired with convincing on-screen chemistry and tension. The vocals were slightly too thin and aspirate for my Musical/Jazz taste but it was a deliberate move of the director to keep the characters as ‘everyman’s’ rather than powerhouse triple-threats but Stone certainly does give it some towards the end of the film. Both Gosling and Stone spent many hours preparing for these roles with constant dance and singing lessons and Gosling even learnt to play piano for the role with what is quite a difficult jazz piano part. There was one particular moment after Gosling had sung, danced, played piano and beautifully shaped his character that I did think to myself ‘I think I’m in love with you Ryan Gosling’ and it only got better from there.
Many amazing old world moments like a scene in Griffith Observatory as a homage to ‘Rebel Without a Cause’ with it’s lush orchestrations and a full ‘Singing in the Rain’ style number in the Hollywood Hills. Some of my favourite moments come out of really witty repartee and some are just the simplest moments of ‘rehearsal piano’ driving accompaniments where Gosling and Stone sing their song, ‘City of Stars’.
‘La La Land’ does not shy away from the ‘Musical’ genre, with an opening 6-minute full orchestra, full cast extravaganza musical item that shut down an LA freeway for 2 days and is almost over-the-top, but certainly sets the tone. The soundtrack is very Jazz oriented and the full orchestration of live instruments certainly give the Old-Hollywood vibe. The melodies and harmonies are complex and certainly don’t stick to simple progressions or movements which created enormous engagement for my ears. Rhythmically complex and wide variations in tempo and tessitura keep the listener on their toes. The beautiful ‘Mia and Sebastian’s Theme’ recurs regularly and offers a sense of nostalgia. Orchestration is heavy on double bass, kit, trumpet and piano as to be expected but a few clever surprise features on Vibes.
‘La La Land’ makes me want to pull out the old two-toned shoes and learn to dance like Fred Astaire, visit Jazz clubs more regularly and finally stop procrastinating and learn piano.
A ‘classic’ in every sense of the word.