In La La Land, the Director of Whiplash Confects a Golden-Age Hollywood Musical with Breezy Charm | Film Review | Indy Week
Pin It

In La La Land, the Director of Whiplash Confects a Golden-Age Hollywood Musical with Breezy Charm 

L.A. traffic gets a lift: La La Land

Photo by Dale Robinette

L.A. traffic gets a lift: La La Land

Denied a best-picture Oscar for Whiplash, writer-director Damien Chazelle again explores the conflict between ambition and humanity in La La Land, this time turning to the tried-and-true award bait of the self-referential film set in Hollywood. It's a romance, but its lesson is decidedly bittersweet: true love is incompatible with materialism or professional advancement.

Mia (Emma Stone) is a barista on the Warner Brothers backlot whose doe eyes are full of dreams of becoming as famous as the stars who turn heads in her café. She pings from one failed audition to another, hoping to land inane roles in inane projects—"Goldilocks and the Three Bears from the perspective of the bears" and "Dangerous Minds meets The O.C."

Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) is a starving pianist who bought a stool just because Hoagy Carmichael once sat on it. He's a disciple of "pure jazz," daddy-o, but he can't hold down paying gigs at cocktail lounges because he won't stick to the stodgy play list. Jazz may be dying, he says, "but not on my watch."

Mia and Sebastian don't exactly meet cute, but that's soon rectified in a song-and-dance sequence set atop the Hollywood Hills against a pastel sunset backdrop, a throwback to Vincente Minnelli and Stanley Donen that's eventually interrupted by a ringing cell phone. With love comes inspiration—hers, to write a one-woman play, his, to open a jazz club called "Chicken on a Stick," in homage to Charlie Parker.

At some point, you just give yourself over to the breezy Technicolor charm of La La Land and its star-crossed love story. Steeped in the nostalgia of Hollywood's golden age musicals, this city symphony celebrates Los Angeles's distinctive milieu. Chazelle got the Angels Flight funicular reopened just for filming, and Mia and Sebastian soar into the stars inside the Griffith Observatory planetarium. The setting is a dazzling daydream with a melancholy undercurrent, "a place where they worship everything and value nothing." Chazelle shoots in Cinemascope, using long takes during the musical numbers, starting with a sweeping showstopper set amid the sprawl of the Harbor Freeway.

Gosling and Stone, in their third on-screen pairing, won't be mistaken for Astaire and Rogers, but they ooze chemistry. Gosling never fully inhabits his role, and his transformation from insouciance to besottment feels slapdash, but Stone is luminescent. One moment when a film projector's beam illuminates her face is breathtaking. She has the countenance and the chops of a classic movie actress who is still plumbing the reservoir of her abilities.

In a far-too-brief bit of exposition, a frontman (John Legend) tells Sebastian that jazz is defined by its tension between tradition and revolution. The same is true for cinema. La La Land gloriously mingles various epochs of American filmmaking. The story is pat, with the ersatz quality inherent in genre films. But movies are a journey and a presentation, not just a destination.

This article appeared in print with the headline "All That Jazz."

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

INDY Week publishes all kinds of comments, but we don't publish everything.

  • Comments that are not contributing to the conversation will be removed.
  • Comments that include ad hominem attacks will also be removed.
  • Please do not copy and paste the full text of a press release.

Permitted HTML:
  • To create paragraphs in your comment, type <p> at the start of a paragraph and </p> at the end of each paragraph.
  • To create bold text, type <b>bolded text</b> (please note the closing tag, </b>).
  • To create italicized text, type <i>italicized text</i> (please note the closing tag, </i>).
  • Proper web addresses will automatically become links.

Latest in Film Review



Twitter Activity

Comments

Much as I hate to be that guy, I must nonetheless point out a minor error in your review. The …

by Just Another Malcontent on Wes Anderson’s Isle of Dogs Is an Alternately Respectful and Baffling Parable About Japan (Film Review)

I loved the movie but I'm curious about the Japanese version. Will it be translated or subtitled? I assume they …

by Neil Robertson on Wes Anderson’s Isle of Dogs Is an Alternately Respectful and Baffling Parable About Japan (Film Review)

Most Read

No recently-read stories.

Visit the archives…

Most Recent Comments

Much as I hate to be that guy, I must nonetheless point out a minor error in your review. The …

by Just Another Malcontent on Wes Anderson’s Isle of Dogs Is an Alternately Respectful and Baffling Parable About Japan (Film Review)

I loved the movie but I'm curious about the Japanese version. Will it be translated or subtitled? I assume they …

by Neil Robertson on Wes Anderson’s Isle of Dogs Is an Alternately Respectful and Baffling Parable About Japan (Film Review)

Lurid and Trashy? Clint Eastwood is a true pioneer of cinema-in front of the camera and in the directors chair.For …

by jde on In Her Remake of Clint Eastwood's Lurid, Trashy The Beguiled, Sofia Coppola Probes Deeper Rhythms (Film Review)

Americans are really good at watching movies and everyone knows that they spend a lot of money on watching them, …

by Anil Sharma on The Average American Sees Five Thousand Movies in a Lifetime. Half of Them Come Out This Week. (Film Review)

I read a couple of good reviews about this movie in Hungarian papers. Actually it could be my mother's and …

by Gabor Lukacs on Ferenc Török’s 1945 Is a Dark Fable and a History Lesson Wrapped in Fine Cinematic Storytelling (Film Review)

© 2018 Indy Week • 320 E. Chapel Hill St., Suite 200, Durham, NC 27701 • phone 919-286-1972 • fax 919-286-4274
RSS Feeds | Powered by Foundation