Thursday, December 15, 2016

Movie with Abe: La La Land

La La Land
Directed by Damien Chazelle
Released December 9, 2016

The musical is far from the most common film genre these days, with fewer than a dozen such films being released each year. Every few years, a live action musical breaks through and receives critical acclaim, but it’s the exception. Even more rare is when a film musical is entirely original and not based on a successful Broadway show. This year, one of the top films is just that, and all the praise heaped upon it is deserved. “La La Land” is a wonderful instance of creativity, peppering a fun story with vibrant, catchy songs and two superb performers to sing and dance their way through it.

This film makes its mark in its very first scene, which finds a handful of Los Angeles drivers getting out of their cars in completely stopped traffic on the freeway to burst into song. Actress Mia (Emma Stone) meets pianist Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) when he honks at her once traffic finally begins moving, and repeat encounters lead them to a more civil and friendly place. Mia has written a one-woman show but spends her time working as a barista at a coffee shop on a studio lot, and Sebastian is relegated to playing Christmas songs at a restaurant while he dreams of opening a jazz bar. As they try not to let repeated setbacks get them down, a romance begins to blossom that seems like it could play out in Los Angeles.

Director Damien Chazelle broke out in 2014 when he adapted his own short film into the critically-acclaimed “Whiplash.” His love for music is obvious, and after focusing on the power of drums, he’s all about the melodies in this follow-up. The film contains a number of wonderful songs, including “City of Stars” and “Audition,” and it also boasts a beautiful score by composer Justin Hurwitz. Two days after seeing the film, the music is still playing in my head. The film also employs vibrant colors and costumes to create a modern-day musical that feels like a dated classic which just happens to play out in the world of Priuses and cell phones.

And then there’s the film’s stars. The movie missed out on a Screen Actors Guild nomination for Best Ensemble, but, aside from the contributions of all those who appear in the film’s opening number, this really is a two-actor film. This marks the third onscreen collaboration between Stone and Gosling following the entertaining “Crazy Stupid Love” and the less successful “Gangster Squad,” and it’s easily the best. Both are extremely endearing and embrace the roles they’re playing with energy and excitement. They play off each other perfectly, and bring a wonderful sense of humor to this highly enjoyable film. A poignant, touching closing scene demonstrates that this film isn’t actually in la la land, marvelously grounding a story that feels delightfully detached from reality in all the right ways.


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