Damien Chazelles follow-up to Whiplash is a loving homage to movie-musicals past that will leave you smiling and tremendously satisfied.
VENICE, Italy Somewhere along the line, perhaps it was Glee (it was Glee), live-action musicals went the way of Milli Vanilli, slap bracelets, and Donald Trumps heel spurs. They degenerated into violent paroxysms of gaiety; singing for singings sake, bereft of motive or explanation; as if trapped in a room with a possessed theater major high on caramel macchiato. In short: intolerable cruelty.
Somewhere between Nine and Rock of Ages, the studios took notice, coming to the realization that once-fertile Oscar fruit had gone rotten. They went so far as bribing Golden Globes-administering foreign film journalists, whose starfucking knows no bounds. For Burlesque, they flew a group of them to Vegas for an all-expenses-paid trip that included luxury hotel, free meals, and VIP tickets to a Cher concert; for Into the Woods, a high-class trip to New York City with a generous per diem.
The deck was certainly stacked against La La Landa movie-musical bearing a title that, if uttered out loud in L.A., might elicit a swift right to the jaw. And then its opening scene hits you.
It opens on a familiar scene: bumper-to-bumper traffic. Hundreds of cars are stuck at a standstill on the freeway headed to downtown L.A. The camera moves slowly down the road, capturing driver after driver drowning out the monotony with varying genres of music. Then all of a sudden, a woman pops her head out of the drivers-side window, belting out a tune. She opens the door and begins dancing down the highway. Others join her, singing and dancing to Another Day of Sun, and before you know it, the mundane has become magical as you witness a full-fledged song-and-dance number with big-beat drums, backflips, and commuters dancing on top of a line of cars trailing as far as the eye can see. Welcome to the wonderful world of La La Land.
The wildly ambitious third feature from writer-director Damien Chazelle, which opened the 2016 Venice Film Festival and will drop stateside in December, is a love letter to anyone that grew up on musicals of the 50s and 60s, from Singin in the Rain and Bye Bye Birdie to Jacques Demys The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. Whereas Chazelles previous film, the Oscar-winning Whiplash, was awash in blacks, ambers, and oranges, this decidedly more joyful picture is bursting with color, depicting Los Angeles as an enchanted boulevard of dreams broken and fulfilled.
Two of those dreamers are Mia (Emma Stone) and Sebastian (Ryan Gosling). Mia is an aspiring playwright and actress, slaving away as a barista at a coffee shop on the Warner Bros. lot, serving up lattes and vegan croissants to those whove ostensibly made it. Sebastian, meanwhile, is a tormented (its Ryan Gosling) and gifted jazz pianist who hopes to open his own caliginous club one day, but spends his nights twinkling the ivories at a family restaurant under the watchful eye of his boss, played by J.K. Simmons. Mia and Sebastian are also stuck in the aforementioned traffic jam, and after a few brusque encounters, connect at a party in the Hollywood Hills. Mia is a guest, a pretty young ornament to the surroundings, while Sebastian is the entertainment: the keyboardist in an elaborately-outfitted 80s cover band. It is here that webless you, Damienget to see Ryan Gosling mock-serenade Emma Stone to Flock of Seagulls I Ran on the keytar as she mock-dances in return. Its just as glorious as it sounds.
Pretty soon, theyre giving their best Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, tap-dancing on top of a hill against a breathtaking vista. Its one of many bewitching sequences that will have you grinning from ear to ear. The two soon fall for one another, but as they begin to court successhe in a touring band led by his music-school rival, Keith (John Legend), she as a playwrightthey find themselves drifting apart, consumed by their striving and with no vacancy for love.