Friday, February 3, 2017
OSCARS 2017: La La Land (2016)
Originally, he wanted to make a flashy throwback to golden age musicals called “La La Land.” “Whiplash's” success would give Chazelle the grounding he needed to make “La La Land.” And now that film is leading the 2017 Oscar nominations and is the favorite to win Best Picture, among other awards. Not bad for the co-writer of “The Last Exorcism Part II,” right?
Mia and Sebastian have come to Los Angeles with different dreams. Mia wants to become a movie star. Right now, she's working as a barista in a back lot coffee shop. Sebastian, meanwhile, is a jazz snob who endeavors to open his own club, bringing “real” jazz to the unwashed masses. They have two brisk encounters before meeting again at a party. A romance soon blossoms. Sebastian encourages Mia to pursue her dreams. Mia encourages Sebastian to let go of his snobbery and open up to people. Despite the music and dancing in their lives, their plans start to splinter apart.
While the film is a thrilling, enchanting ride just based on how it looks and moves, that's not what makes “La La Land” so charming. The two lead performances are magical. Emma Stone taps into all the giddy energy that makes her so lovable. She's gorgeous but down-to-earth, bubbly but sarcastic. She's perfect for the part, a dreamer who deflects her pain with snappy humor. Ryan Gosling has the hard job of playing an unrepentant snob and making him likable. He succeeds, partially because Gosling is so effortlessly likable but also because the script isn't afraid to judge him for his bad behavior. He's a good guy but there's room for improvement. Moreover, the two share such a genuine chemistry, their scenes being so light and airy. They make falling in love look so easy. Part of why “La La Land” is such an absolute joy is because watching Stone and Gosling play off each other is the purest kind of fun.
Another Day of Sun” is a powerful opening burst of whimsy and upbeat energy. “Someone in the Crowd” is funny, about a trio of friends trying to perk up a moody Mia. “City of Stars,” a gorgeously low-key piece, focuses on the singer's voices and a simple, catchy melody. Two songs are clearly the stand-out pieces. “A Lovely Night” shows Mia and Sebastian falling in love in the tradition of a classic musical, their barbs matching each other as they dance the night away. “Audition,” meanwhile, is a display for Emma Stone's surprisingly powerful voice, a piece devoted primarily to her singing her heart out, drowning each word in sincerity and strength.
If it was just a beautifully acted and assembled homage to golden age musicals, “La La Land” would probably still be a really good movie. Chazelle, however, finds a deeper meaning in the music. “La La Land” is about dreams, how they can be both a gift and a burden. When Mia and Sebastian have their break-up at the end of the second act – a required story beat for romantic-comedies – it's not for reasons that ring false. He's willing to sacrifice his dream so that she can achieve her's. Yet the struggle, the disappointments, are starting to mount in Mia's life. She's not sure she can take another a blow, one that Sebastian is pushing her towards. Ultimately, the love they form becomes a part of that dream too.
Believe the hype. There has been quite a bit of backlash over “La La Land,” the movie's divisive reception becoming something of a meme itself. A lot of it centers around some belief that the film misappropriates jazz culture into something tidy and “white.” This seems to miss that Sebastian's jazz snobbery is supposed to be a negative quality, something he gets over throughout the story. I don't know, maybe I don't approach movies like that. To me, “La La land” is a brilliantly composed, fantastically acted, singing-dancing shot of good feelings right into your heart, an uplifting experience that – as cliché as it sounds – emphasizes the magic of movie making. [9/10]