The newest film by Damien Chazelle, director of Whiplash and 10 Cloverfield Lane, La La Land tells the story of two young entertainers trying to make it big in Hollywood -Ryan Gosling as a passionate jazz pianist and Emma Stone as a wide-eyed, aspiring actress.
Fools Who Dream
Not unlike many classic Hollywood musicals that came before it, this film pops with color as it starts on a cheerful note. But what distinguishes it as a modern musical is the sober reality of life that it blankets over a beautiful Los Angeles backdrop.
I wasn't expecting the contrast of Hollywood fantasy and the blandness of reality to be so strong an underlying theme. And for that reason, my initial reaction was ambivalent. (Add to that the way the film lagged a bit throughout the middle.) But I gradually realized that La La Land was not paying homage to classic Hollywood, nor writing a love song to L.A.
Its main theme is well-captured in the song “Here's to the Fools Who Dream.” It's a message to the dreamers. About fighting against certain odds to make your dream come true. And the sacrifices you'll make along the way.
The final musical sequence narrates this sad truth in both a sweet and powerfully sour way. Even men in the cinema audience were wiping tears away. It was a beautiful crescendo with which to end the film.
Left the Theatre Tapping our Toes
The music in this movie was spectacular. From the rich, pounding bass drums to the delicate and vulnerable tinkling piano, Justin Hurwitz' score was a character all its own. Worth seeing the movie just for the songs. And Gosling's mad piano skills.
Another appealing aspect of the score was the way it naturally fed into the plot. There was no “let's drop everything and do a musical number,” nor any overly obnoxious ditties.
Classic hollywood films like Singin' in the Rain may have had their somewhat long, drawn-out musical sequences, but your eyes were always glued to the screen. Dancers like Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire, and Judy Garland set the gold standard for dynamic entertainment.
For this reason, I went into the “modern musical” La La Land with some high expectations. While Gosling and Stone did reasonably well, their vocals and footwork both lagged, and this was a distracting thorn in my flesh throughout the film.
I'm sure many classic movie fans lament the lack of triple-threats (singer/dancer/actor) available in Hollywood nowadays. Sadly, there just doesn't seem to be enough of a demand for entertainers like Kelly, Astaire and Garland.
Or is there?
I'm sincerely hoping this film will strike a chord and cause a swell in demand for more modern-day musicals. Complete with dynamic, full-fledged triple-threats on the big screen.
As Chelsea Miles of the Deseret News writes: “Maybe the answer to a great summer blockbuster is not big explosions and romances, but a touch of old Hollywood song and dance.”