A little less than a week ago, I finally got to buying four classic films starring the legendary Fred Astaire and Ginger Rodgers. Those two cinema icons are some of the few I can watch and have all the worries of my life wash away. That feeling came to me a lot while watching the visually glorious La La Land. It manages to balance being loyal to both the old school and the current.
After his highly entertaining movie Whiplash in 2014, director Damien Chazelle is proving he is more than a one trick pony. In a year of many downers across the globe, here is one of the years clear front-runners for best picture, and it is jubilant and energetic and toe tapping fun. The opening number (“Another Day in the Sun”) is like one we never have seen, and may never again: it takes place in a traffic jam. How many other musicals can say they have a dance number in a traffic jam? That alone is stunning.
Emma Stone has never been better. She stars as Mia, a young wanna be movie star who has been trying and failing at auditions for years, scrapping around working at the coffee shop right next to where they filmed a scene with Bogie and Bergman in Casablanca. Eventually, she meets Ryan Gosling’s Sebastian. He is a die-hard devotee of Jazz, who plays at locals but never gets to have his music heard. Their personalities collide in another number with dancing that had shades of Astaire and Rodgers.
Learning dance numbers can never be easy, and we can see how much rehearsal was put into learning the numbers. One easy way to see this is that each number is, for the most part, shot by Chazelle in long takes. In other words, the actors had little to no room for error.
There are other minor roles, including Oscar Winner J.K. Simmons who proves there really are no small parts. There is also singer John Legend as one of Sebastian’s old friends, proving he has some actual talent beyond the singing world.
Of course, the music is stellar all around. Composer Justin Hurwitz has made a soundtrack (which I bought very shortly after seeing the film) with tunes that leeches happily on your brain and heart for the next couple months, if not the rest of your days.
Parents, it makes me happier than I thought possible to say that this movie is not that bad for young people. The rating is PG-13 rating is for swearing, and that is it (there is one F bomb, and someone gives the finger to another character, but that is it). All the language is no worse than that of a typical middle school lunchroom (minus the dancing). No violence or sexuality of any kind (minus kissing). If your kids are in middle school, they are ok with this film.
Is this really what it is like to work in Hollywood? I can only assume yes. There has to be struggle and strife to get a good start. La La Land makes that clear. It also makes clear that making a musical must be fun. You will get that sense through the whole time you are sitting in the theater…tapping your feet.
It has seldom felt so good to be a fool who dreams.
Overall: Five Stars *****