Lionsgate 128 Minutes PG-13
This is a film that strikes emotional chords on many levels while it enthralls and entertains. Chazelle and the design team use the camera lens as a vibrant palette to not only capture movement, dialogue and music, but to create scenes that look like paintings. It’s about pursuing your dreams with a love story beautifully wrapped in fantasy.
Chazelle has another hit on his hands and this one will be bigger than Whiplash. La La Land definitely appeals to a wider audience. He wanted to capture the magic of his favorite old musicals like the Umbrellas of Cherbourg to Singing in the Rain, Top Hat, and even Boogie Nights, but for a new generation.This was a dream which he never thought would come to the big screen. He even sweat it out at early screenings thinking it might bomb, but received a standing ovation at the Venice Film Festival and it’s been garnering awards and nominations ever since.
From the first scene in La La Land, you’ll have the feel of 50’s musicals brought up to date. This is a story about dreaming big in Hollywood. That huge, vibrant production number opening the film is astounding. “Another Day of Sun” was shot over 2 days on a jammed freeway ramp with cars still rolling on the roads in the background in over 100 degree heat. Director Damien Chazelle had it planned in detail. They rehearsed with boxes in parking garages. The Choreography and camera work swoops, dips and flows. They took elements from just 3 takes to make this elaborately timed song and dance routine and this is just the beginning! It’s a grabber.
Stone as Mia is committed to make it as an actress. Stone is beautiful, sweet, and vulnerable, but can be hard as nails. Who knew she could sing and dance! The scene of her going through a series of auditions is funny, but also very sad. The first audition we see is an emotional crying scene where she is cruelly dismissed when the casting director gets a phone call that disrupts at the crucial moment. That scene was from an audition Gosling told Chazelle he actually had, and it was written into the script.
Gosling as Sebastian, a jazz musician whose dream is to own a club of his own and meets resistance trying to play music based on jazz greats of the past. Gosling proved he could sing and dance as a kid when he was in the Mickey Mouse Club. Here he not only sings and dances, but learned to play piano. He practiced 4 hours a day for 3 months, playing not a few keys but all of them. “I can’t imagine listening to music this much and not being sick of it. But this, for some reason, this music is still beautiful every time I hear it.” He and Mia bump into each other and bump heads more than once until they develop a relationship supporting each other’s dreams. But this is also a story of love and loss.
What makes this musical different is the how Chazelle weaves the experiences and relationship of his leads seamlessly into the story through the production numbers. You’ve seen films where the songs come suddenly out of nowhere. But Chazelle and his composer, Justin Hurwitz started working on the songs for this film when they were still shooting Whiplash. Chazelle told us on the Red Carpet at the Chicago International Film Festival how he and Hurwitz sent lyrics and melodies back and forth to capture their ideas. Click here for our interview.
We’re in the age of The Voice, So You Think You Can Dance and more shows tapping loads of raw talent. Many were surprised when he cast Ryan Gosling, who is known as a romantic lead and Emma Stone, is also known for her acting (The Help). They worked hard for 3 months to learn how to sing and dance with Choreographer Mandy Moore, (not the singer/actress Mandy Moore). Moore says there were good days, bad days and sweat days.
Gosling credits Chazelle with giving time to rehearse to make them comfortable with the big dance numbers. There are so many elaborate musical numbers in fantastic settings, including a vista overlooking the city and high on the hill at Griffith Observatory. Stone says those scenes were magic.Their dancing on air is beautifully done. Choreographer Moore wanted to make the audience feel that there are real people moving and naturally flow into a dreamy fantasy world.
Famed musician, John Legend plays a former bandmate of Sebastian in the film, and even he was impressed with Gosling’s playing after such a short time. Chazelle was looking for that Hollywood star kind of 30’s and 40’s glamour with contemporary actors who could be spontaneous and improvise. This is one of Legend’s first acting parts. He calls himself a rookie and he’s a little stiff but does a credible job. Of course, he’s best in scenes when he’s playing music.
Director of Photography, Linus Sandgren says Chazelle, who story boarded the whole film, wanted long takes, (7 minutes long,) for some scenes which can be tricky with movement. Lighting is very important in the film. It is used to pick the leads out from background and crowds. And it especially effective in the views of L.A. from the Griffith Observatory with the twinkling lights below and the shots of evening skies. Stone says the beautiful scene “A Lovely Night” in Griffith Park is one of her most memorable. They rehearsed it for months and shot it in one take. Chazelle was adamant about deep purple and blues for the sky, not wanting to shoot against a black background. Sandgren says the Director wanted it feel magical, yet realistic and it does. We think it made scenes look less like a set or location and more like paintings.
This film does what the best musicals have always done. It makes us believe a relationship is real in the most unreal way, while the actors sing and dance. Mia represents every young girl coming to L.A. trying to break into show biz and the dehumanizing process of trying to land a part. It finally breaks her. But it’s Sebastian’s faith in her and his love that saves her.
Stone and Gosling have the chemistry to make the relationship work. This is their third movie together. Chazelle and Hurwitz created the script and setting to make it magical. This film joins the list of great American musicals that will be seen and studied for the filmmaking as well as the performances. As the song suggests, La La Land is “A Lovely Night” at the movies.