La La Land : A Film Review

 

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Directed by Damien Chazelle, produced by Fred Berger, Gary Gilbert, Jordan Horowitz, Marc Platt. Written by Damien Chazelle
Cast.  Ryan Gosling as Sebastian, Emma Stone as Mia, John Legend, Rosemarie DeWitt, Music by Justin Hurwitz, Cinematography. Linus Sandgren. Released. August 31, 2016 (Venice Film Festival) December 9, 2016 (United States) January 13, 2017 (United Kingdom)
Duration. 2hr 8mins. Country United States. Cert. 12a.

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Entertainment ball

In terms of public awareness and prominence in entertainment news La La Land has outshone practically every advance notice in media platforms excepting Star Wars levels.  From Emma Stone whose first public encounter in association with the movie was about six months ago at Venice, August, and the exposure has been excalating ever since, it has been a long at times, probably tiresome journey.  New work needs a great deal of similar commitment at the inception through realisation and I wonder how La La Land has affected her work.  It is the same for Ryan Gosling no doubt with roles for both of them very drastically different from this coupling ever advancing.

Let me entertain you

They nail the chemistry in this film which is in my mind one of the primary reasons it has succeeded. Mia is a barista working in a movie studio and Sebastian as a jazz painist playing in a bar with Whiplash tutor J.K. Simmons cast as owner.  They rendezvous at the bar and the friction of first love is tested as Mia …. well you figure as most reviewers have given away lots of the story and piecemeal you get to hear of the whole story anecdotally and spoilt. The love story obviously survives an early clash otherwise where’s the Movie!

The next piece of the jigsaw is location Los Angeles dream making ‘central’ and the heart of entertainment Hollywood so we are led to believe.  The world is much bigger but for ever Hollywood is the place to ‘Make It’ – a true tale of a musician struggling up the ranks who has written some of the most smaltzy and crooning type pop music fodder the Musical genre cries out for is that of Gary Barlow except he did it from North Wales to Runcorn clubs and TV induced encouragement until he produced the magic cassette tape for a man (he didn’t know) was putting together a boy band and on it was A million love songs.  When the guy heard (Nigel Martin Smith) it he was astounded.  It was entirely his own work – singing, playing, arrangements and production. But there was no Hollywood or Nashville only the GB circuit.  So the story of musical success for Gary Barlow has wealth and a great story behind it but no Hollywood traction. La La Land is a film about the ‘Make It’ struggle but without the content.  I’m beginning to warm to Take That as a guilty secret along the lines of Wham and Careless Whisper.  The look of LA is very intoxicatingly throughout this film but other films produce this high intensity colour like Cy Twombly covered cityscapes.  The dancing is very cleverly designed and camerawork follows using the most uptodate technology and some post production tweaks but the one tracking shot which I favour as a time conscious mechanism is used as a bit of a contrivance and involves the performers – bashed in car roofs show the rehearsals were trying – is monumental and eclipses the principles in the scene they ‘meet’ and it’s a hammy connection with back of car camera work following intricately played dance work and flops abysmally with ‘gestural’ negative vibes.  So not uplifting?

La La Land Review

Lachrymose.

In La La Land there are no such songs.  Not even close. The music is what musicals are supposed to be about but here it is devoid of a kicker song and one you will be singing on the way home.  Andrew Lloyd Webber is one of a kind whose skills in producing theatres West End Musical hits – to be seen in the flesh so to speak at the auditorium – invests a whole aura of entertainment enthralment into a viewer/listeners experience.  Theatre therefore is the Musical driver and it is nothing without a key song which delivers a story.  Film is let off the hook is what I’m saying.  Its visually sumptuous and reminiscent of previous screen giants which have gone from Casablanca and Mary Poppins to Les Miserable and countless more West Side Story, Saturday Night Fever etc. Which define light entertainments Musical genre.  The crossovers are there.  Evita with a song.  Every one has a song a hook, but La La Land does not therefore it is something else which is its secret.

The traits exposed her are a song and dance girl and a under rated pianist.  Bring on Marilyn straight away.  She’s even a red head.  Then there is child star risen and light hearted, no Jack Lemmon or Tony Curtis  adding spice sex appeal (gender bending in Some like it Hot) story and the band add song and key bonding moments.  ‘Make It’ again the point.  Ryan Gosling does a weaker version of any of the forerunners as most of them were all round Entertainers bending their skills into believable actor roles alongside the Musical centrality of a story with songs and kicker ones at that.

 

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The films orb

Luscious mush is not what Musical Entertainment is really about but it does put bums on seats undoubtedly has it tweeks the right buttons in a contemporary way.  Sub Woody Allen cinema techniques are deployed, with initially the screen ratio itself a harbour expanded.  The opening sequence so much talked about is an opening number.  A Scorsese or Polanski close up of a girl reading a script and wap bo bam babbaloba a dance sequence – instead of a street a highway – instead of tables and chairs – cars.

Björk in Dancing in the Dark (2000) and the train dance sequence is a million times better as was the film and all modern imitations are limp like this tends to be.  So is that a put down?  Depends.  I venture the film is not the film we are sold,  its hype has part of the ‘Make It’ into an icon feel to it.  Join up to the tale or be square.  The film and films are meant to be bigger than that and reviewers often times find themselves screwballing all types of references into ‘a film’ in order to find a hook or difference mediating it in the central plank of screen presentation.  I opt to extrapolate and go for a world view which has got me in all kinds of twists if not thought through entirely.   Opening lines and arguments come from initial sight, not as the previous projected ideas of the film whatever it is. The likelihood is however, a film cannot be trusted on first viewing to be what is up there on the screen.  Have I lost you! In all likelihood therefore I move swiftly on.

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Point me in the direction of

It is the junior life span of director that enables him to disassociate his film arc from the history of musicals.  It gives him however the leverage.  The CinemaScope outreach is breathable luscious escapist heartfelt visually skilfully paced high, low drama with the emphasis on low.  How many people thought of the roster of film stars and entertainers lost in the past year in so large a profile.  The shattering news of such film stars as Alan Rickman and Carrie Fisher along with such providers of our own musical tapestry, escapist if you like, Prince, David Bowie, Leonard Cohen and George Michael it is in film we see the narrative of stardom reflected.  The can of film is in essence the sideways turn which actually is the central heme.  The position of fame and success and our appreciation of its value altered and enriched, adjusted on each film we see.  The rush of people having witnessed or in the screenings already out there and captured in the USA were at a time of a ‘unbiblical’shiftbin the conscious of all its citizens when aprobrium and vile extremist views were and are salivating the mouths of political entities whose ridicule knows no bounds, is the defining chapter of our present times.

Clear the swamp with metaphor

We are goin to clear the swamp comes the call.  This particular one (film implies?) is not one so deep it causes you to leap on car bonnets or roof’s but splash about in the rain as Gene Kelly did.  The swamp of this movie they have ‘risen’ from even temporarily, is in all views and directions not deep.  Like Gene Kelly it is a mere splash they find themselves in or is it the Directors suggestion we are in a deeper mess than we are told or believe. In Gene Kelly’s famous scene we are given to believe times ahead and even now are not so bad and moral is joyful and the moral fibre, heartfelt thanks to be alive are intact.  My view tends to the very pessimistic and Climate change (sans RHI boilers – a local NI joke literally) an these actors may well need the refugee of car bonnets for what’s coming ironically given the number of cars, down the line.

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Escapism is very conducive to projection as well as rejection.  From epic films of catastrophe and end of scenarios to stories of galactic conflict they all have their meaning.  How this one fares is anybody’s guess but it for me is simply a trailer for something more enriching and informative in this genre if it’s out there?

Conclusion ###3

As gripping as a sponge and wet as a puddle.  Give me Car wash any day.  Love the music – the jazz but not the ‘songs’!  It is a fun film and a little crazy but it is ultimately slight in terms of musical films.  Performances are spot on particularly Emma Stones Mia the red head.  No cliches then. It is not remotely the reinvention people have called it of the musical not even a hybrid. It does entertain and looks great but why should it not.  The choreography is camera led.  The shots of the dance on cars is sweeping but Busby Berkeley with fewer resources gave us politics and drama in for example The Gold Diggers of ’33.  Move it. See it but see it for what it is and enjoy it for what it is also. I hope you enjoy the experience at some level.

John Graham

16 January 2017

Belfast

Give me Car Wash anytime

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On at Queens Film Theatre until  1 February 2017 with *NOT SCREENING MON 30 JAN and on General release.

 

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