La La Land (10/10)
by Tony Medley
Runtime 128 Minutes.
OK for children.
I loved this movie. I
can think of little to criticize. This is a sparkling homage to many
things; vintage Hollywood musicals, particularly An American in Paris
(1951), ‘50s Hollywood films, like Rebel Without a Cause
(1955), Astaire & Rogers dance movies of the ‘30s, and the City of Los
Angeles, just to name a few.
To highlight one
aspect of the film would be to unfairly diminish other aspects, so I’ll
just take them in no particular order.
The first is the
acting. I am often blown away by the hidden talents of actors that we
see playing straight acting roles. Who knew that Emma Stone (Mia) and
Ryan Gosling (Sebastian) could sing and dance? But sing and dance they
do. Maybe they are not going to make people forget Fred and Ginger, but
what they do is captivating, especially one waltz that does not last
nearly long enough.
knew that Ryan Gosling was such a talented pianist? While most films
fake actors playing the piano by showing head and shoulder shots of them
playing the piano or a shot of them playing the piano with the hands and
the keys hidden. I’m told that Gosling has said he “practiced three
months,” but, take it from me having played the piano almost all my
life, you don’t play like this in 3 months (I still don’t), even if all
you’re playing are a few bars. You still have to be able to hit the
notes with both hands and that’s a lot more difficult than it sounds.
Gosling has to have some native ability, especially if he picked it up
this fast. This film takes pains to show that it is truly Gosling
tickling the ivories. I was watching his fingers specifically to see if
the notes he was hitting were the notes that were being played and they
were. But I also did confirm that he actually was playing the piano in
Gosling and Stone give Oscar®–quality performances, especially Stone.
Some of the really interesting scenes are of her in auditions where she
has to go through a variety of emotions within the space of a few
seconds. She is an outstanding actress, and this film, especially those
scenes, exhibits her wide range.
As if the film needed
more, what really stands out is the chemistry between the two. It
sizzles when they are onscreen together, not unlike the chemistry
between Gosling and Rachel McAdams in The Notebook (2004).
The original music
(Justin Hurwitz) seemed enchanting to me. Generally it takes a while for
a song or a series of songs to become familiar enough so you can hum
their melodies and be truly enthralled. While I cannot at this point,
hum any of the melodies, all I can tell you is that it could be the best
score written for a movie since Lerner and Lowe’s Gigi (1958).
The cinematography (Linus
Sandgren) captures the many different aspects of La La Land with some of
the more extraordinary shots seen in recent cinema, especially the
opening dance number of a freeway jam. But other locations jump out at
you. When Mia first appears working as a barista, I was about to tell my
guest that that was shot on the Warner Bros. back lot. Before I could do
so, though, the film identified (for the purposes of the film) the
location as a coffee shop on the lot. But that is truly where it was.
Occasionally when I’m attending a screening at Warner Bros. I walk
through the back lot and pass that intersection.
In another scene Mia
is looking for her car and punching her remote to see if it would
respond. Sebastian says to hold it next to her chin and it would give
her more extended range. This is actually true, although you’re supposed
to hold it next to your head. I’ve tried it and it works.
The script, by
director Damien Chazelle, is exceptional. It is as romantic a tale as I
have seen in a long time, and it is realistic, showing the ups and downs
of romance. Even though the movie is more than two hours long, Chazelle
directs it with such wonderful pace that the time passes too swiftly.
Now for the negative.
In one of the opening scenes, Mia is in the shower and asks for a towel,
which is thrown over the top of the shower door. Immediately she emerges
from the shower wrapped in the towel. The only way that could happen
that fast is if she were already wrapped in the towel when she asked for
it. Small point, but it was a little jarring.
When you see how
ridiculously petty this criticism is, you get a feeling for what a great
movie this is. I want to see it again.