This is classic storytelling at its best. It doesn't take much to tell a story. This is something Mia (Emma Stone) knows all too well through pursuing her childhood dream in Los Angeles. Director Damien Chazelle shares Mia's storytelling talent and his mindset is clearly in tune with those he may well have been influenced by — Michael Curtiz, Mark Sandrich and Victor Fleming — all of whom created such lively feel-good movies.
The kind of art that goes into those films has certainly earned La La Land awards at not only key ceremonies like the Golden Globes, but many film festivals over 2016 before its release to commercial cinemas. The flood gates are open and I have every faith that it will clean up at the Academy Awards to finish off. Unfortunately, the key element of these films has been lost over the years, reducing modern-day cinemagoers mostly to Disney fans (and yes, that includes Marvel and Star Wars).
A well choreographed and seemingly natural dance routine is always entertaining, and Chazelle has reminded us that a story can be carried this way. So much so, that he wanted to use very long shots to compliment the dance numbers. I felt that the visuals of the film complemented the whole point of the film itself and the crew certainly pulled this off.
"The movements could be even dancing with the dancers."
— Linus Sandgren, Director of Photography
Song-and-dance routines are at the root of this story. "City of Stars" as performed by Ryan Gosling is a key song throughout, recurring at times of significance. These sentimental moments for the characters really drive the story and I feel that is a rare treat in modern-day cinema.
What Does This Tell us About Hollywood Today?
There are many problems. So many problems. Recent comedies, for example, don't make use of cleverly timed, subtle humor, but instead rely on stereotypes and people falling down. Funny, right? The scripting for La La Land allowed for a more realistic sense of humor through somebody who carries natural comedic values.
Last year, Ryan Gosling proved his skill in a comedic role in The Nice Guys. He has proven that you shouldn't have to go over the top and try too hard to be funny. In La La Land, Sebastian (Gosling) delivers timely and unexpected comments and actions that you can't help but enjoy. A fine example of this is the pool party scene. Mia (Stone) approaches the band playing on stage to find Sebastian (Gosling) dressed in an '80s disco outfit playing the keytar. He reluctantly plays the cheesy songs while trying to act enthusiastic for the sake of the over-enthusiastic singer.
I wish the problems ended there. Oh, how I wish they ended there. There's special effects, poor green screen footage, terrible scripts, bad acting — it goes on. If you don't believe me, look no further than The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones. Maybe I'm a little cynical. Admittedly, I am a hypocrite, for I enjoy a sci-fi or superhero film as much as the next guy in a batsuit, but that doesn't mean the films are always of great quality.
Classic Hollywood Left Its Mark
The movie begins with a big song-and-dance number from no characters of any significance. It was the most fun I've had watching a film opening in a long time.
It was also from this moment that I made my first decision about the film: This is going to be special. On the topic of dance numbers, Chazelle has given a subtle nod to one of the more memorable dance moments in Hollywood. 1952's Singin' in the Rain will always remain a classic, with Gene Kelly and Debbie Reynolds in key roles, and I believe Sebastian's quick spin around a lamp post was one of many nods to this classic musical.
Bringing Jazz Back To The Movies
Personally, I have never been a fan of jazz. In fact, thanks to my music teacher at school, I couldn't bare to listen to it for a time. However, there is no denying that it's one of the purest forms of musical communication, as we learn from Sebastian throughout the film.
With La La Land, Ryan Gosling has proven once again that he has a great acting range. He delivered fantastic songs and dance numbers, including an impressive skill of jazz piano, which was learned solely for the movie:
“Piano had always been something I wish I had the time to learn. What other job is it a part of your job to just sit in front of a piano for three months and play... It was really one of the most fulfilling pre-production periods that I’ve ever had.”
Chazelle wanted all of his shots to be long and uninterrupted, so it seems he wanted his cast to perform what we see on screen without camera trickery. It is important to have your actors perform for themselves because viewers notice. I can appreciate that an actor can be perfect for a role, so it may be necessary at times to dub their singing or other sort of musical performance. However, for the sake of authenticity, nothing helps you fall in love with a character more than seeing the actor truly deliver their talents on screen.
It would be fair to say that this isn't a film for everyone and I have heard very mixed reviews. Some love it (like myself) while others can't stand it (my friends, who are wrong). It's a musical, and not everybody enjoys musicals, which is understandable. Still, I'm sticking with the many critics and magazines and giving it a solid five stars.
So, if you want a break from superheroes, OTT action and all things Disney, then take a step into classic cinema for a taste of true class.
Do you think it will continue to clean up at the Academy Awards this February? La La Land is in cinemas now.