365 Movies in 2017 #10 La La Land (Summit 2016)

Damien Chazelle's Golden Globe award winning La La Land starts slowly with a song, "Another Day in the Sun" and scenario that recalls Rent as commuters in a Los Angeles freeway traffic jam get out of their cars to perform the biggest dance number. While the average musical fan might relish this scene, due to its expansiveness, with hundreds of dancers and stunning cinematography, I thought it hurt the pacing of the film. Indeed,the film captures the ambience and feel of life in LA, but its reach sometimes exceeds its grasp as Chazelle tries to fit in many influences and references. However, his heart is in the right place as he creates a stylistically stunning tribute to classic Hollywood and the stories it told. The songs sometimes do not feel fully formed either, but that just might be me as my knowledge of musicals is mostly confined to Astaire and Rodgers and MGM musicals.
Despite these minor complaints, I was unprepared for how much I enjoyed the film. When Mia Dolan (Emma Stone) and Seb Wilder (Ryan Gosling) finally meet, things heat up. Their  relationship captures the ups and downs associated with being young and ambitious in Hollywood. The film meshes the realistic and the fantastic to tell their story. Mia wants to become an actress, yet works as an on-studio barista, while Seb wants to open a jazz club, but plays in unsuccessful bands. (And they are not always jazz-one funny moment occurs when Mia requests that his 80s cover band play Flock of Seagulls) They achieve their dreams through some trial and error, yet ultimately realize that with out each other both these dreams and the reality of Hollywood ring hollow.

The story is told with charm and verve, the songs, especially the jazzy ones ("City of Stars,""Start a Fire"), reward repeated listenings, and the cast is well chosen. J.K. Simmons' role as a club owner is too brief. John Legend is amiable as Seb's musician friend, Kyle, who recruits him for a band. Stone and Gosling have realistic romantic chemistry. Each is assured and likeable, and it is hard not to root for their relationship, however improbable. Their dancing and singing works, and is enhanced by their likeability, although it never reaches the levels of their 20th century predecessors like Gene Kelly or Cyd Charisse.

La La Land captures the escapist feeling and rollicking storylines of classic Hollywood without trying too hard. The film's timeless message is memorable long after the credits roll, like the classic escapist films it emulates. Chazelle's picture is not just a representation of our national love affair with Hollywood but an enduring minor classic that just might revive the musical genre.     


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