Recently: “La La Land”

Creativity and originality is dead. That’s the thinking floating around regarding Hollywood of late, and more often than not, it’s right on point. So few original films come out that do more than pass by, practically unnoticed. If it were not for what seems like a few creative forces left, and several smaller and daring studios, there would probably be no fascinating, challenging or compelling films left for anyone to even consider watching. How bland would that cinema landscape be?

With the Summit Entertainment film “La La Land” not only is an original idea unfolding before those who choose to see it, but a whole genre is being given a kind of life that hasn’t existed in some time, if ever. People talk about the need for risks, from all types of studios and creatives, and while this focuses on one type of film, it’s still one that needs a lot more attention and risk taking than it’s been getting in some time. However, for every well-made film, there are several that will only ever dream of being something like that which inspired it.

Music Of The Heart
With any musical, whether an adaptation or an animated film, one key component to making a fun and memorable film is the music. In this case, it’s both the score and the songs that are heard. And audiences most definitely got that and then some. Really it was more than anyone could’ve imagined getting, even if they’d consumed all previously released trailers, TV spots or song sneak peek. It was certainly more than I imagined and I’d listened to the soundtrack a few times before seeing the film. The music just flowed. It was whimsical, magical and beautiful at times. With a certain goal in mind, which the film’s story also took time detailing, the ability to craft new and refreshing jazz inspired music became easier. Well, that’s what it looks like. What also makes this great is that not every moment was jazz centric. Sure some instruments that are used in jazz music could be heard, but other, less common ones (which I can only sort of recognize, but not really tell you about), had individual moments to shine. Because of this, I also felt at times I was treated to some classical inspired musical moments as well. I love both, so perhaps that’s why I found the occasional transition between each style to be flawless. If you’re listening hard enough, even during the film itself, which can be challenging, you’ll notice and hopefully love it all the more. It truly allowed for audiences to get lost in the music and the individual moments during the overall story. No, seriously. The audible responses from those around me were just as exciting to hear as the film was. Knowing that others felt what I did, or pretty damn close to it, was incredible.

Music only gets you so far. So, throw in some lyrics and vocals! Lyrically, it’s just plain refreshing. I feel like I have to do some actual work to memorize the lyrics. They’re not ones that have come in and out of pop culture for years. My knowledge on what makes a song lyrically good or bad is limited, so let me say this quick. The lyrics just worked. They spoke to certain moments in what seemed to be the best way, plus, sometimes they were simply funny. For me, that’s enough. It’s hard enough to figure out which one I like most, as I pretty much love all the songs equally. From a vocal standpoint, I was surprised. At first it was because of how different and strange the vocals all sounded. Then, upon listening to the songs a few times and then watching them in context in the film, I got it. I loved them even more and was amazed at what was being achieved. Going for a softer and more melodious sound is not something we get, even in the slower and more dramatic songs of typical musicals. Here, largely, it’s less about high and long notes. There’s an intimacy achieved, which I can’t remember seeing that often in other musicals.

And the choreography was wild! It had this classical look to it in some instances, and full of energy in others. There was never a dull moment and I can only imagine the hard work everyone had to put in for this film. If anything could be the cherry on top of so much amazingness and grand vision, it’s this. That scope, made even bigger because of the work done by choreographer, Mandy Moore, and it fits perfectly and paid off immensely!

Details Matter
Songs, dance and music are a major part, but it’s everything else that makes a film possible. Since this film required a certain stylistic approach, to achieve the throwback look and feel of a time long since gone, the cinematography, costumes, and sets and set decorations had to be of the highest caliber. Fortunately, all of those people involved knew how to deliver and how to work with director Damien Chazelle.

The cinematography, takes on a familiar look, but allowed for a sweeping and consistent feel, but also allowed the musical numbers to look and feel big. A perk of this approach to filming, that I like and it could just be me, is that I was truly thrust in. From the moment the film began I was in that world and more or less experiencing it all. I was most definitely not your typical invisible spectator. The musical numbers I feel benefited the most. Not only could the scope be so much bigger, but you could see it all. There was truly a reason to have so much detail and design done. Again, think of the opening number. Or, which kind of amazed me, think of the sequence for “Someone in the Crowd”. That was largely smaller and more confined, but it was no less magnificent in scope. That’s because of the brilliant and colorful sets and decorations on display, not to mention the beautiful dresses each of the women were wearing. Of course, the way the camera moved from room to room, with each character, helped in capturing the quirky tastes of the four roommates and made for a fun and highly energetic sequence. The level of excitement was definitely not what I expected and I was rewarded with huge smiles and laughter that lasted the entire time, as well as with several other moments in the film, even when not during a comedic moment. Not many musicals have done that or been that consistent.

Costumes, sets and set decorations brought so much vibrant color and eclectic taste to life. Just look at Emma Stone’s room! Sometimes it’s more obvious, but if you’re an observant and involved audience member, you’ll definitely notice it all. The thing that surprised me the most was the color palette. Now, I’m not sure how much was altered in post, but when you see the finished product, none of that matters. Just look at the photo accompanying this section for reference. I noticed it all when watching the film, but even just glancing at that picture for a while longer, I took in so much more and could appreciate and love what was achieved. Musicals typically have grand costumes to go with the big sequences and story, but on this level, with this amount of consistency and detail, I’m blown away. If I could dream repeatedly in a world such as this, I daresay I’d never want to wake up. If you need inspiration, look no further than this film.

With these all pretty much in sink, you’re guaranteed a charming and magical experience, plus an opportunity to borrow some decorating tips. I keep using that word, “magical” as that’s the best way to sum it up. This film is an escapist film. You’re transported to some place different, yet familiar enough. It’s like stepping into Wonderland. You can have an adventure that’s, not to unlike most you’ve ever had, especially in a city with such a specific reputation. When I think on it too, Los Angeles itself becomes a character of sorts. Who would’ve thought that the Griffith Observatory could represent anything other than what it does? Who would’ve thought that some relatively banal street could hold so much eclectic style? I wasn’t in need of inspiration or amazement, as the film had already achieved that with the film’s opening number, but that’s what I got time and again.

Sugar, Spice And Everything Nice
I’ve seen countless musicals, and liked a few of them, even the ones from long ago. However, I seldom respond to the characters. Sure I like them or don’t, in that superficial manner that I can, mainly as I was left no alternative. But here, for once, there’s more to these characters. Even characters you see for smaller amounts of time, who barely have any lines. I’m thinking of Stone’s roommates. Somehow, through the little that each did or said, I was able to find a way in and discover why I liked them. I must say too, I’m envious of the relationship these women all have with each other.

The standouts were of course, Stone’s Mia and Ryan Gosling’s Sebastian. There’s so much life, passion and drive, that after seeing this film, I didn’t feel I needed any more inspirations. They were enough. If these two can wow individually, think about how great they were together. Any scene would do. Happy or sad scene. If they shared screen time, they did so with a level of chemistry I seldom seen repeated. Being in sync with another character has never appeared so easy. Because of this, several important things are able to happen. A believable romance can begin and then flourish as the film progresses. All the ups and downs are familiar to us. Even more important, as this film wouldn’t even be slightly possible or fun to watch, are the ways that Stone and Gosling can rattle off some decently paced dialogue and other comical situations. The witty banter just flows from each and the two actors can work off each other so well, that once they get going, there’s no stopping.

I find too, that this lends more credibility and power to the dance sequences and musical numbers they’re in together. Sure a lot of this has to do with the level of choreography and dance rehearsal, but if someone can spot two characters in a typical romance film, or any film with any film pairing, trying to have chemistry and build a relationship, but so clearly fail at it, then that same person can spot a lifeless relationship in a musical. Not only were Stone and Gosling clearly well-rehearsed, but they also remembered to show good chemistry and that there was something there, which ultimately served the story at large. As far as musical numbers and the story are concerned, this synchronicity took the film to even greater heights than it was already achieving and would achieve by film’s end.

“All Will Come To A Happy End”
“Not always”, says The Witch in the trailer for the 2014 film “Into the Woods”, to the above quote which titles this section. In this case, I guess it depends on what the word “happy” means to you. It could also mean something different depending on what you’re striving for. As was wonderfully, and somewhat painfully shown, this could be something as simple as achieving a career goal. Sometimes one goal at a time is enough.

Now, as it regards this film’s ending, which if you’re reading this, chances are you’ve seen the film already, and have your own thoughts. If you haven’t seen it 1) what’s wrong with you? 2) Why are you reading this already? 3) Why haven’t you left to seek out the nearest theater showing this film? So much to do, so little time, I know. Get moving! Anyway. I like it. As surprising as it is, which I already feel is enough of a spoiler, it works. It’s also quite bold. I, like so many other audience members, I’m sure, went in thinking this film would lead to some sort of amazing ending. And while it did, it wasn’t the amazing ending I was expecting. It wasn’t at all bad, but it was essentially a major twist in a wholly original film, but one that seemed like it would still follow a familiar framework.

Because of this somewhat daring ending, there’s so much more to get from this film and dwell on. Mainly, the idea that not all films need to have the expected and somewhat cliché happy ending. There’s some brilliance to be had with this ending. Getting caught up in a well-executed love story, complete with incredible chemistry and performances, not only makes it easier to love the characters, but just be in the moment. We get this so often and usually quite easily with various musicals. What we don’t get, are multifaceted characters, characters that are doing so much more and striving for so much more. It took me a small amount of time to realize this, and ultimately it’s why I love the ending, but the main point of this film and the character’s motivations, had nothing to do with romance. It became part of who both Gosling and Stone were, and again, allowed for me to get swept up in the romance. I feel that even the final scene of the film affirms this. Happiness for these two characters wasn’t in a romantic relationship. It wasn’t some pit stop or merely a perk either.

Since happiness can take on many different meanings, in some ways, this ending makes it possible for people find their own meaning and interpretation for this film, its ending and the events themselves. How often do you get that?

Originally Released: Dec. 9, 2016 in a limited capacity followed by a wide release on Dec. 25

Written and Directed: Damien Chazelle

Starring: Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, John Legend, Rosemarie Dewitt, Finn Wittrock, Callie Hernandez, Sonoya Mizuno, Jessica Rothe, Tom Everett Scott and Josh Pence


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