Friday, December 30, 2016

Films of 2016: "La La Land"


Hollywood has certainly had a long history since the golden era of MGM in adapting successful stage and Broadway musicals into feature films (including recent hits Chicago, 2002; Into the Woods, 2014; and Les Miserables, 2012). But what director Damien Chazelle does in La La Land is different. Sure, it is an homage to the films of the aforementioned era (including, also, Casablanca and Singin' in the Rain), and it encompasses more than a century of various music genres. But this is perhaps the first real musical of the 21st century that is original. More than that, Chazelle (who recently directed Whiplash, 2014) has stated this is a musical for those who don't love musicals.

Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone play a jazz musician (Sebastian) and an aspiring actress (Mia), both struggling to make it big in Los Angeles. Being a movie musical, they both express themselves through song, through dance, and through jazz. The 50s/60s-inspired setting--with modern day tweaks, of course--adds to the thrill. The opening segment, for one, begins with classic-style studio logos, including the CinemaScope title card (and screen ratio span), while showing a time span of over a century of music via radio-station-skimming.

Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone
This fusion of fantasy and reality works brilliantly, as Sebastian and Mia try to make their dreams a reality, and are challenged by the notions of what is behind and what is ahead, especially in the case of jazz music. (One character tells Sebastian, "You're holding onto the past, but jazz is about the future.") These characters even try going their own directions, hoping for the best. And still, they do try to remind each other if what they do is what they're passionate about, or if it's just work for somebody else's dreams. The same goes for, in spite of many disappointments and not feeling good enough, seizing opportunity while it's there and giving everything your all.

La La Land is thoroughly irresistible. Every number, from the opening segment on a freeway to Gosling and Stone tap-dancing on a hill to the phenomenal climax, is a showstopper. The same goes for the wonderful costume design, terrific score, and Gosling and Stone's winning performances. What a rarity to see a film like this being made in our current franchise-heavy culture.

Love is in the air.

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