I used to love musicals. I think I secretly desired to be on stage singing and performing; the unattainable dream of one insecure 20-something.
I have gone off this genre a while ago now and my dislike includes both movie and theatre musicals.
In musical movies, I find that if the screenplay is good enough but actors burst into a song out of the blue every 10 minutes, it is a bit like being woken up by the door bell during a nice dream. It’s just simply annoying.
In musical theatre, at times, the story doesn’t translate well from screen to stage (The Commitments). If it is an original play, it has the potential for resulting too weak to stand on its own two feet and when you then add to the equation original music and lyrics that are too poor, it becomes simply unbearable. I think that the worst musicals are generally those stage productions that use non original music scores in a made up story that has no relation to the songs themselves. ( i.e. Mamma Mia or We Will Rock You).
But enough with “Oscar the Grouch”.
The first time I heard of La La Land was at the end of 2016 and when I began to see its posters around the city, my reaction was that of a kid scrunching up her nose to Brussel sprouts at Christmas. Then, It started collecting all those Golden Globes nominations; I was dubious and perplexed to say the least.
And now for the “Ta Daah” moment: I eventually decided to go to the cinema and watch it!
So why pay to go and watch La La Land given this premise you might ask?
- I have taken it upon myself to be a home judge during the Awards Season. Every year I make a list of every film, actor, actress, director, screenplay and photography that’s nominated for an award and do my best to watch them all before the Academy Awards are on TV. Then I stay up to watch the show from start to finish. (I want to petition for the Academy to move the show to Saturday because we all know that dreaded feeling of doing anything on a Sunday: all you can think of is Monday).
- The story about the two struggling artists, Mia, an actress and Sebastian, a jazz musician, who try to achieve their dreams and fall for each other, attracted me.
- I was secretly hoping this movie would rescue the fate of the genre since I consider myself an ex-lover of musicals.
- I was curious to see how Ryan Gosling fared on the piano playing stakes, as I am myself in the process of learning to play the instrument after solely song-writing on guitar for years. After learning that it took Ryan 4 months of every day practice to play that way in the movie I resolved to knock down my limits.
The power of movies…
Of course, watching La La Land had nothing to do with ogling at Ryan Gosling… I was there merely in a professional fashion!😌
The beginning of the movie did absolutely nothing to change my mind about screen musicals but as it was reminiscent of certain scenes from the Fame Tv Series (that I’ve always loved and still love) I decided to give it a chance, stop my preconceptions and sit there hoping things would get better whilst simultaneously doing my best to ignore the guy behind me who with his foot tapped his way through the entire movie without a break…
Critics, viewers and experts consider the opening scene a masterpiece and I can see why. It’s spectacular in its fabulous choreography and photography but although entertaining, I’ll admit: it made me cringe. The scene is set up to look like a single shot filmed as a huge dance number that takes place on a Los Angeles highway overpass during a traffic jam. It’s actually three shots sewn together and it’s about six minutes long as director Damien Chazelle explained.
I slowly started warming to La La Land because its story is effectively centre stage and the songs are its soundtrack. It’s not a movie written around the music. The strength of this film is how well story and music work together: the music is what envelopes the story like a warm blanket. Every song transfers and conveys each related scene to the audience perfectly. No song is gratuitous but placed there at the right time and for the right reason. Like “Mia and Sebastian’s Theme” for instance.
The story stands by itself and the music wanders in, in its own right.
I admit there were a few Disney moments for me, but I am willing to overlook them because the movie is so exquisite. The modern setting helps make the story relatable and I felt touched by the concept of someone being “scared of running after their own dream” then easily being sucked in and steamrolled by every day life. The two characters spur each other on and nurture each other’s dreams despite the hardship of having to balance ambition and life.
Emma Stone looks incredibly comfortable in her dancing and although her voice is not particularly incisive it is really pleasant; however, during the dancing shots, Ryan Gosling’s often seemed wooden in his movements.
I suspect that picking 2 people who could represent “anyone”, to play two struggling artists, might have been an intentional move in the casting choice: If you’re an actress or a jazz musician you won’t necessarily be able to sing… or dance to perfection. I am sure Mr Chazelle could have opted for someone like Justin Timberlake and Reese Witherspoon but chose not to.
The use of colour throughout the movie is outstanding: everything at the beginning pops, from the wardrobe to the sets and props and then it gradually becomes more subdued as the story progresses to uncover the plot direction.
Damien Chazelle heavily drew his inspiration from several classics like “Casablanca”, “Singing in the Rain” and his favourite, “Le Parapluies de Cherbourg” from the 60s (The Umbrellas of Cherbourg). There are clues scattered throughout the film, and scenes reminiscent of those old musicals, yet he was still able to keep his movie rather contemporary.
The ending was also unexpected. Without giving any of the story away, I can say I am glad the end of the movie is not predictable and is rather out of the ordinary for a musical. I didn’t leave the cinema dissatisfied.
Have I been won over? I am not sure if La La Land has made the miracle. Maybe it softened me up. Perhaps it will become a one-off piece, so original it will stand the test of time on its own.
One thing is for sure though: I guarantee you’re going to walk out of the cinema singing or whistling “City of Stars”… it sticks to your head like glue!
You have been warned!