Mia, an aspiring actress, serves lattes to movie stars in between auditions and Sebastian, a jazz musician, scrapes by playing cocktail party gigs in dingy bars, but as success mounts they are faced with decisions that begin to fray the fragile fabric of their love affair, and the dreams they worked so hard to maintain in each other threaten to rip them apart.
Potluck dinner at 5:45, film screening to follow at 6:45 AND MOST IMPORTANTLY= DISCUSSION AND COMMENTARIES AFTER THE FILM
I SAW LA LA LAND, ‘N’ “AL AL AL” WAS I.
Movie Review by Brad Kay
OKAY, the above is not the most perfect palindrome. Not classic, but it sort of makes sense, and you have to admire my initiative for coming up with it. People who even think palindromically are quite rare today. The same could be said for “La La Land.” It’s not a perfect movie, yeah, it’s not as good as “The Band Wagon,” yeah, but you have to admire the initiative of all concerned.
It is a CONTEMPORARY picture, not a modern attempt at an old-fashioned studio musical. Sly though it is with clever references to “Singin’ in the Rain,” “The Great Ziegfeld,” “An American in Paris,” etc. etc., it never tries to BE those movies or anything like them. All bets are off. In case you didn’t get the memo, MGM is history. That whole Old Show Business ethic is history. Fred Astaire, Jimmy Durante, Eleanor Powell, Al Jolson are all gone, and there is no one and nothing to take their place. The era is kaput. The miracle about “La La Land” is, that in spite of NO studio infrastructure or cultural “pull,” it ever got made at ALL. It should get an Oscar for just that. But this movie is more than just a futile, pallid, bloodless-but-brave attempt at a musical (as many have opined). It’s accomplished, entertaining, colorful, tells a terrific love story, succeeds on its own terms, and more than held my attention for two hours.
I saw “La La Land” on my 28-inch flatscreen, rather than in a theatre, and I think that helped. It’s an intimate story, after all. I don’t know much about “chemistry,” but Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone seem to have enough of it to keep us rooting for them. They held the franchise for me. The expressions on Stone’s face, near the start of the picture, when she’s on the phone getting the gate from her old boyfriend, were priceless and put me on her side at once (see Luise Rainer’s big telephone scene in “The Great Ziegfeld” for comparison).
For a musical, this had a LOT of music; a range of styles from show tunes to opera to “commercial” jazz to “real” jazz; plus there was ample silence and space. We see a great deal of tremendously accomplished instrumental playing. The actual singing and dancing certainly could have been better, and yes, there was no big Irving Berlin show-stopping song that just HAD to be, that got you cheering (the opening sequence on the 105 interchange was a good try). But, for today, Gosling and Stone’s singing seems natural. It emerges out of talking, which to my mind, is the best way a song can be. For them suddenly to explode into Las Vegas “Gladiator Style” singing would have been just silly.
Gosling’s jazz “piano playing” was pretty terrific throughout. True, it was dubbed in by pianist Randy Kerber (I looked it up), but Gosling threw himself so into piano practice, that his fingering and attitude looked entirely natural. He used several types of pianos in the course of the movie – a Steinway grand, a full upright, a little spinet, electronica – and the sound matched perfectly every time. It fooled me, and I should know.
There was a lot of talk about music and jazz throughout. It was not embarrassing. Lots of the talk sounded like it came from real musicians. It tells the truth! “La La Land” is not shy at conveying how fragile and precarious the music and acting scene of today really is. It never tries to convince us, as does “The Red Shoes,” that the whole world is one vast playground of the Arts. It’s a wasteland, and everyone knows it.
The only phony note in the picture, for me, was when “Sebastian” (Gosling) grudgingly had to play “boring” Christmas carols in a restaurant, then had a hissy fit, played “out” jazz, and got fired by his asshole boss. I’m sorry! That’s totally unprofessional! If you’re getting paid, you PLAY the damn carols, satisfy the man, but then DO them your OWN bad way! Knock yourself out! That’s what is known as a “win-win” situation. But I guess a plot point about the pianist’s “artistic” nature needed stress.
The color was thrilling – dazzling, kaleidoscopic, at times even psychedelic. It was the closest thing to the vivid, oversaturated three-strip Technicolor from the ‘40s I’ve ever seen. Much attention was paid to contrast, juxtaposition, variety. The editing also was fast paced, even clever and funny, but never obnoxiously so. And they also let the camera linger for long, full-frame takes with few cuts. Great use of fabulous L. A. locations, some of which are gone already.
I got the feeling of people working hard, pulling together, pooling all their talents to put this thing over. The team spirit is palpable. It never was easy to make a decent musical, even back when the studio system was swinging and the audience always was hungry and ready. For this picture to be made, today – for accomplishing all that it does, when it must have been a total uphill slog, what with music itself gasping for survival, with venues shutting down, audiences dying off and musicians evaporating – is fucking amazing.
Believe me, I was SPOILING to pan the hell out of this, and spew generous pots of my tight-assed curmudgeonly bile about the decline of culture, etc. etc. But I’ll have to stifle it. “La La Land” is really a GOOD picture, goddammit, and I don’t care if lots of ordinary people happen to agree with me.