Thursday, August 3, 2017

It's the Worst

Now that a little time has passed, I think we can all agree that La La Land (2016) is a quite a good movie, even if not the resurrection of the Hollywood musical that some were hyping it as. We went in with very modest expections, and they were handily exceeded.

It starts with a lovely little dance number - in an LA traffic jam. i had expected Marcello Mastroianni to float up out of one of the cars, but no. However, Ryan Gosling does flip off Emma Stone when traffic starts moving.

Stone is an aspiring actress - a good one if her auditions are any thing to go by. Not a very lucky one, though - she messes up her blouse, someone walks into the room just when she's getting going, etc.
Gosling is a jazz pianist - also very good, but no one will let him play it like it is. Hired to play hokey Christmas tunes at a restaurant, he starts improvising just as Stone walks in. He gets fired, so when she tries to compliment him, he flips her off again, This meet-cute thing isn't really working out.

Finally, at a "typical Hollywood party", she sees him playing keytar with a dire 80s cover band. So they spend a few quiet minutes watching the lights of LA, on the same street that party in The Nice Guys took place. They joke around, disparage the scenery ("I've seen better") and have a little dance number. Before long they are living together.

But this is Hollywood, so there's no happy ending in the middle of the movie. Gosling feels he needs to bring in some money, so he puts his dreams of opening a jazz club on hold to play in his friend John Legend's funk-fusion band. This makes Stone happy at first, because she likes good music more than jazz, but she can see that it is eating at his soul. Because he plays his solo with one hand in his pocket and a wry half-smile on his face. Meanwhile, he convinces her to pursue her dream of writing and starring in a one-woman show, but then he misses her opening night. Oh, these crazy kids.

You're probably thinking, skip the spoilers, who cares about the story, how's the music? The dancing? In my opinion, the music is great. Gosling's jazz is kind of soft bop, not threatening but not pablum. I guess they were trying for Michel Legrand, and they got it. The songs are good, although only Stone's Fools Who Dream really moved me.

The dancing isn't great, I won't lie, especially when compared to Kelly, Astaire, Charisse, Rogers, etc. But take the Griffin Observatory scene - they go to the Planetarium and dance up into the stars. Astaire and Vera Ellen have a similar number in Belle of New York, and, in my opinion, it wasn't that great. So you could say the dance numbers were no worse than some of Astaire's worst. I guess that's not too shabby.

I had a little problem with Gosling's character - he's a snob. I can see hating to play Christmas carols and 80s hits, but John Legend's band was hot. He comes off as sullen and whiny, even though he tries to take it with a joke and (wry half-) smile. Also, Gosling has the face of a sharpie - he looks shifty to me. Hard to take him seriously (even though the jazz is good).

Stone is another story - she seems to be a serious, dedicated actress, giving her all in commercials and terrible "message" TV movies. Also, she is gorgeous, in a somehow French New Wave way - very Jacques Demy.

In the end, there is a fantasy ballet, and dreams come true for both of them - but separately. This is supposed to be very adult and somewhat fresh, but we've seen it before. Let me think: Oh yeah, Crazy Heart, another "musical".

In conclusion, neither as bad nor as good as the hype. Pretty solid, but I've seen better.

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