I saw La La Land this weekend, and I have to tell you it’s different than any movie I’ve ever seen. I’ve watched—and enjoyed—classic Hollywood musicals like Footlight Parade and Singing in the Rain, and in a lot of ways LLL reminds me of them … the sudden bursts of song, the fanciful flights into dance, the bright colors and brassy music. And while it’s a throwback, it’s also a film soundly grounded in this era, with a sometimes-biting look at Los Angeles in general, and Hollywood and the movie industry in particular. The music is soaring and romantic and lush, the dancing is wonderful and the two stars—Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone—have such an easy, likeable chemistry and are so incredibly talented that you can overlook some of their very minor failings (both have nice voices, but not great voices; in that way they’re a little bit like Gene Kelly, whose singing voice certainly fit him … Gosling’s and Stone’s do, too). Gosling has left me a bit cold in the past; like some other actors—Brad Pitt, Bradley Cooper, Chris Pratt, to name three—whose appeal I just don’t get other than them being good-looking mannequins. But here he’s so sincere, so warm, so TALENTED, that he won me over. And Emma Stone has always been a particular favorite of mine (redheads … am I right?), in just about everything (even those awful Spider-Man movies, where she should have played Mary Jane Watson). The song (“The Fools Who Dream”) she sings when she auditions for a big movie role near the end of the film is so touching and heartfelt, that I cried. Yeah. I cried. In the fancy-pants, leather reclining seat, we’ll serve you overpriced food at your seat if you push the button movie theater.
But OMFG, as the kids say these days, is this a beautiful film. While Kelly’s dance films of the 1950s had stunning color and amazing compositions, the color palette and composition of each and every scene of LLL is breathtaking. There’s nothing else like it out there, and it’s the first film in a long, long time that made me come home and purchase (as in download) the soundtrack. There’s a shot in the film, when Sebastian and Mia (Gosling and Stone, obviously) get together for the first time and they’re on the WB studio lot and they roam past a scene being filmed. The purple lighting fixtures perfectly compliment the deep green trees behind them. And the scene where Mia and her roommates go out to a party, all dressed in bright, primary colored dresses, glowing against a twilight sky is incredible. A number of scenes—including the bravura opening sequence set on a freeway ramp—are long, unedited takes that just flow on and on, just like Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire used to do.
The music is just about perfect, a combination of old big band style ballads, movie musical music, jazz, and yet all of it has a modern, present-day sensibility. Everything everyone is saying about this movie is true. It really is different, exciting, compelling, and at times bittersweet. And god, I love bittersweet. Bittersweet is my life.
One last thing: there are moments in this film that not only reminded me of classic Hollywood musicals, but also of the silent movies. There are shots, sequences, slow push-ins to actors’ faces, lighting, framing, and a lack of spoken word that made me feel the real, true visual power of film, taken from a time when the actors “had faces then,” as Norma Desmond says in Sunset Boulevard. Writer/director Damien Chazelle has crafted a totally originally film that owe more than a passing nod to dozens of classic films. So when someone says they don’t make ’em like that anymore, tell them they do. La La Land proves it.