HELP US KEEP REPORTING. DONATE TO ORLANDO WEEKLY PRESS CLUB.

click to enlarge Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling

Photo courtesy of Summit

Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling

Modern musical 'La La Land' blends innovation with Hollywood nostalgia 

L.A. confidential

"Everything old is new again," Peter Allen wrote (and sang). But if he had seen La La Land, he might have omitted the word "again," for never have the glory days of Hollywood been reimagined quite like they are in the new film by writer-director Damien Chazelle.

La La Land is part musical fantasy, part romantic dramedy and part homage to such classics as Singin' in the Rain, Rebel Without a Cause and An American in Paris, but it's also the tale of two very real people with very real, 21st-century L.A. problems.

Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) is a jazz pianist stuck banging out Christmas ditties to unappreciative gourmands while longing to open his own club and revive an art form that's more endangered than Southern Californian modesty. In short, he longs for something real. Into his life meanders Mia (Emma Stone), another frustrated California dreamer who works as a Warner Bros. Studio backlot barista by day and receives rejections from casting directors by twilight. That they meet and fall in love is not so much real-life serendipity as beautiful contrivance. And, at least for the first act, it's all bee's knees – with tunes! But then the music fades, figuratively and literally, and our lovebirds fly straight into the face of reality – and modernity – as they must choose between their relationship and their careers.

In his last film, Whiplash, Chazelle used music as punctuation, but in this one, he promotes it to conjugation. La La Land opens with "Another Day of Sun," in which hundreds of drivers stuck in a real (little, if any, CGI) traffic jam celebrate, in song, arguably the two most iconic Los Angeles attributes: ever-present sunshine and never-ending freeway gridlock. Other musical numbers follow, some just as memorable ("City of Stars" and "The Fools Who Dream"), some not (the slightly too cute "A Lovely Night"), until the second half when, frankly, the film turns a bit dull, has trouble juggling genres and is burdened with poor pacing and a subplot involving Sebastian's musical partnership with his friend Keith (an out-of-place John Legend). But by that time, the film has built up enough charm to coast its way toward one of the best endings of the decade: a jaw-dropping, metatheatrical collage of music, art, dance and emotional longing that would have made even Gene Kelly jealous.

Gosling and Stone have predictably wonderful chemistry. This is, after all, their third film together. They also have decent-enough voices to make one forget that Justin Hurwitz's music is substantially inferior to the classic musicals the film references. But when dazzled by the film's originality and happily blinded by its hues of blues, reds and yellows, my primary color was not disappointment, but delight.

Explaining the fractured psyche of their city, Sebastian tells Mia, "That's L.A.: They worship everything, and they value nothing." That's not true for La La Land, though, which worships and values – and even loves – Hollywood, flaws and all. And despite the movie's shortcomings, that love is infectious enough to land La La on the list of the top 10 movies of the year.

4 out of 5 stars

We welcome readers to submit letters regarding articles and content in Orlando Weekly. Letters should be a minimum of 150 words, refer to content that has appeared on Orlando Weekly, and must include the writer's full name, address, and phone number for verification purposes. No attachments will be considered. Writers of letters selected for publication will be notified via email. Letters may be edited and shortened for space.

Email us at feedback@orlandoweekly.com.

Orlando Weekly works for you, and your support is essential.

Our small but mighty local team works tirelessly to bring you high-quality, uncensored news and cultural coverage of Central Florida.

Unlike many newspapers, ours is free – and we'd like to keep it that way, because we believe, now more than ever, everyone deserves access to accurate, independent coverage of their community.

Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing pledge, your support helps keep Orlando’s true free press free.

Newsletters

Never miss a beat

Sign Up Now

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.

Read the Digital Print Issue

December 2, 2020

View more issues

Calendar

© 2020 Orlando Weekly

Website powered by Foundation