La La Land 2016
Starring: Ryan Director: Gosling, Damien Emma Chazelle Stone, Callie Hernandez, Jessica Rothe, Sonoya Mizuno, Rosemarie DeWitt, J.K. Simmons and John Legend.
It came so close, but of course the Academy Award for best movie was snatched from the hands of its makers to be given to someone else after a wonderfully hilarious stuff-up. But it did win six other awards, including for direction by the now 32-year-old writer/director Damien Chazelle.
La La Land is an audacious piece of work by director of any age. It evokes the style of the classic song and dance musical. In tone it’s something like ‘An American in Paris’, or ‘Singing in the Rain’; it surpasses them in some ways, and falls short in others.
The story is a pleasantly romantic one, with some wistful loss tossed in. Emma Stone (who won the Best Lead Actress Oscar) and Ryan Gosling are struggling to get their careers started, he as a jazz pianist, she as an actress. When their paths cross they are antagonistic, but not for long. Their relationship is done with style and a gorgeous look to the whole thing.
Because it is in a colour, of course. Modern, bold, smooth and powerful colour. There are strong primaries throughout. The movie revels in them, such as the four girls going out with their contrasting dresses. Yes, all the girls wear dresses most of the time. Dresses that wouldn’t look out of place in a 50’s musical.
The sound quality is first class, so the music—written by Justin Hurwitz who for his efforts won two Oscars (Original Score and Original Song) is delivered with power and precision and a decent dynamism. There are very particular requirements for the songs in a musical. They cannot require familiarity to be enjoyed. Movie makers have only two hours to make you enjoy six or eight songs, so all are very accessible and tend to have a show-tune feel. Within those constraints, it was all very fine work.
What didn’t work quite as well was the dancing… well some of it, anyway. The movie opens with an enormous dance number involving dozens of dancers emerging from their cars in a traffic jam. They’re all clearly professional dancers and it’s wonderful eye candy.
But our stars are movie stars, and being able to perform a tap dance is no longer a required skill for those entering the acting profession. Gosling and Stone were clearly coached in dance and have immense physical talents, so they kind of pull it off. They certainly put all their body parts in the right places at the right times. It’s just that it looks like they’re thinking hard about what they have to do, and as a result don’t have the spare capacity to allow them to insert any real snap or bite into their performances. Fred and Ginger they are not, but at perhaps 80 per cent of Fred and Ginger, they’re still pretty fine. Stephen Dawson