Movie musical review: La La Land

The La La Land cast watched the MGM film Singin’ in the Rain every day for inspiration.

I really liked the movie La La Land, which the Wife, the Daughter and I saw in late December 2016 at the Spectrum in ALB. The opening credits promised CinemaScope! – I didn’t adequately explain to the Daughter why that made me laugh.

The opening number during a Los Angeles freeway traffic jam I enjoyed – I thought it was a hoot – and it was the most standard musical piece in the bunch. A smattering of the audience applauded. The choreographer was Mandy Moore, not the singer.

In the traffic snarl, Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), nightclub keyboardist who aspires to play good jazz, and Mia (Emma Stone), a barista/would-be actress, meet not so cute, but they keep showing up in each other’s orbit. They eventually get together, but they both have dreams that might tear them apart.

One of the complaints – Ken Levine makes it, e.g., – is that Gosling and Stone can’t sing. I’ll grant you they don’t have traditionally big musical theater voices, but they are, at worst, serviceable, and are absolutely correct for this story. Gosling, who has a singing background, learned to play piano for the role, and he and Stone both learned dancing.

The tension in the third act is required to avoid a pat conclusion. There’s a song near the end – I think it’s called Audition – and I was surprised to discover a tear running from my eye. The ending is a satisfying payoff.

La La Land looked fabulous. The art direction and the cinematography were spectacular. The film was written and directed by Damien Chazelle, who did the same on 2014’s Whiplash; that movie’s Oscar winner, J.K. Simmons, plays a bit part here.

John Legend also stars as a musician from Sebastian’s past is in the film, and HE learned how to play guitar for the role. There is some fine jazz in this film as it veers away from the traditional musical. It would be easy to predict a number of Oscar nominations for this wonderful picture.

One of the snarkier reviews suggested that it was “a well-intended tribute to the fabulous MGM musicals of the great Vincente Minnelli, made by people who have never seen one. I don’t know about the Minnelli pics, but Gosling claimed the cast watched the MGM film Singin’ in the Rain every day for inspiration, and he spoke fondly of the late Debbie Reynolds.

One last thing – I swear La La Land received a PG-13 rating, rather than PG, for the use of a single f-bomb.

Author: Roger

I'm a librarian. I hear music, even when it's not being played. I used to work at a comic book store, and it still informs my life. I won once on JEOPARDY! - ditto.

4 thoughts on “Movie musical review: La La Land”

  1. Roger, I saw the film last week. I liked, but not loved it. Watching Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone reminded me that when Kurt Weill was mounting productions of The Three Penny Opera and Mahagonny in the 1920s and 1930s he demanded “singing actors” not “acting singers” and I thought both of them were perfect. I am a big fan of old musicals, and while the tribute idea is fine, I think La La Land was something different – and more interesting. However, the movie left me with a feeling of melancholy that I just can’t shake, and each time I think of or hear, “City of Stars” I get a bit choked up.

  2. What did you think of the “jazz controversy”? Apparently some people are upset because they pick a super-white guy to champion traditional jazz, while John Legend is a proponent of the more modern stuff and therefore a “villain.” I haven’t seen it, but I got the sense from reviews that we are supposed to think that Baby Goose is a complete idiot for being so stuck in the past, when actual jazz has moved so far beyond what he think is “real.”

  3. The trad jazz guy was so in his own way for most of the pic that I didn’t see it like that. And if you’ve listened to the various stages of Coltrane or Herbie Hancock, his vision of traditional jazz was so locked in amber that I wasn’t sure it was viable. in any case (spoiler, I suppose), he used “selling out” for a while to get to his own goal. I never thought of the Legend character as a villain, more of a realist.

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