La La Land
seen @ AMC Loews Lincoln Square 13, New York NY
I love my classic film blogger friends. I consider myself fortunate to have gotten to know these people through their writings about Old Hollywood, to have learned about movies through them. In the year I spent as one of them, I discovered some fundamental differences in philosophy between what I do and what they do. That's okay. I respect that difference. Sometimes, though, I get the feeling some of them are pretty resistant to modern movies.
Most of the time, yes, I get it: many of today's Hollywood movies are not made with the same attention to characterization, plot, composition, light and shadow, and sheer star power as those of the studio era (though in all fairness, they made their share of stinkers back then, too). Once in a blue moon, though, a new movie comes along that's clearly made with a love and appreciation of Old Hollywood and the way they made films then. This year alone, between Hail Caesar!, Cafe Society and Allied, we've seen a fair amount of films either set in the studio era or made as if it was one.
La La Land is the best of them this year. It's certainly one of the best homages to Old Hollywood since The Artist. It's one I really hope the classic film bloggers will go see once it comes to their hometowns, maybe even write about if they're inclined.
They will find much in the movie for them. Not just the Old Movie Weirdo Easter eggs, of which there are lots, but the old-fashioned romance between Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone (their third movie together - does that make them a modern day Tracy and Hepburn?), approached as a modern movie, but with the feel of another era. I read one review comparing it to the films of Jacques Demy. I can see that: the bright colors, the location shoots, the downbeat (though not depressing) ending. I think Stanley Donen could've made this too, or Robert Wise.
It didn't feel like an all-the-way musical. The songs were pleasant, and I'm sure at least one of them will get Oscar nominated, but there were also long stretches without song and dance routines. Compare this to an adaptation from the stage and you'll see the difference.
Traditionally, musicals have a better balance of moments with and without singing. I would've liked another large-scale show-stopper similar to the opening number on the freeway, for example; maybe some more songs from supporting cast members besides John Legend, too. It's not a big deal. Seeing Gosling and Stone sing and dance (and play piano in Gosling's case) was enchanting enough.
La La Land is also a love letter to Los Angeles. I've never been there, but seeing this film really makes me want to go one day. Writer-director Damien Chazelle shows off the City of Angels, not just in the day and night, but the twilight as well, with deep, warm, glowing colors that almost don't seem real. And did I mention the impressive cinematography?
I admit, there are times when I find the term "feel-good movie" suspect. It can have the ring of lowest-common-denominator pap, which Hollywood is all too familiar with. Not this time. La La Land is feel-good in the best sense. Even the downbeat ending doesn't leave you sad or depressed. You leave with the sense things will be okay, in spite of everything. That's one message I find extremely welcoming.