Screened Out – La La Land

By : Stephen Miller
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Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone

Do-It-Yourself indie films and high-polish Hollywood musicals don’t seem to fit together. And if fact, there are some brief points in La La Land that don’t quite sing. Yet, as a whole, this small, modern throwback to Hollywood’s heyday is delightful. It reminds us that miracles can still happen, even in the simplest films.

And it doesn’t hurt that La La Land has the imitable and immutable charm of Gosling and Stone together in another love story (after the cute Crazy Stupid Love and the duller Gangster Land). Their singing may be a little windy and wispy – no full-throated Merman-like belting here. However, their chemistry is undeniable.

With Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, La La Land has style and charm galore.

With Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, La La Land has style and charm galore.

Stone is a struggling actor. Gosling a jazz man fond of pianos and memorabilia. They’ve both come to LA to pursue their dreams – hers of a career, his of opening up a club. They run into each other. They may hate or love each other. And then they sing. And dance

It’s the sort of musical movie magic we’ve all but forgotten. Once it used to make perfect sense that people burst out in song and dance. La La Land brings it all flooding back with well-structured scenes and cute choreography.

Also running through La La Land is a thread about pursuing dreams, and how love can support that. And then sometimes, love gets in the way of our dreams.

This matters now, still; in fact, it’s timeless. Sometimes, we shift our dreams, and sometimes we just give up and move on, and La La Land knows that. Even as it casts its spell, the movie taps into the grit and struggle. Though many colors soar from the screen, there are still those corners of dirt, those alleys of dumpsters and trash, the broken heels, the ruined clothes, and the ruined lives.

Young director/writer Damien Chazelle shows he is one to watch out for.

Young director/writer Damien Chazelle shows he is one to watch out for.

In fact – without spoilers – the last few scenes of this film are just flat-out fantastic filmmaking. These moments take into consideration both the Heaven and Hell of life in Hollywood.

So, perhaps the first number needed better sound mixing; it’s supposedly lively, but instead very quiet. Also, none of the tunes are incredibly memorable. Even as romance blooms, Gosling and Stone bring realism to their roles that actually undermines the musical glory. Yet their simple voices still may live up to Astaire and Rodgers, which isn’t very difficult. The modern realization of romance means that La La Land must end differently than those great MGM classics.

Ratings Key

See it now! Buy the DVD! Quote lines at parties!

Definitely worth the price of admission

It’s useful as a distraction

Maybe if someone else pays and you need a nap

Slightly worse than eternal damnation

Screenwriter and director Damien Chazelle (of the wondrous Whiplash) puts it all together with wit and love. His writing (even cleverer than his script for 10 Cloverfield Lane) finds moments of truth, balancing them with homage to past films like An American in Paris and Top Hat.

It’s a big risk, to tell a timeless love story by combining current DIY sensibilities with last century’s best musical movie moments. Except for a few stumbles and missteps, La La Land wraps us in love and music, often reminding us what our modern sensibilities may be missing.

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