La La Land
Last night, my parents and I finally saw La La Land, the film that many people said revived the classic musical film genre, and that managed to sweep up a record-tying 14 Oscar nominations, the honor of which puts this on the same Oscar podium as All About Eve and James Cameron's Titanic.
It really blew us away...sort of.
Let me start with where the movie did NOT meet our expectations. Half of the elements involving the revival of the musical genre were pretty subpar. Some of the songs were too subtle, and the singing for these songs did not mesh well with the acting. That's not to say that they were artificial or that the notes didn't fit, they just...weren't at the right level of musical tenors to be expected in everyday musical films. At least, compared to the classic musical films of the mid-20th century.
Thankfully, this is where my complaints about the movie end. Here's where it really hits the right notes.
The other half of its revival attempts really worked, with a great musical score and amazing, snappy, very fluid choreography to tap along with it. There were also three songs in the movie that I loved: the first two (especially "Another Day of Sun") for being the most energetic, and "Audition (The Fools Who Dream)", for being the most powerful. In fact, I'm happy to see that song being up for the Oscar for Best Song. I was also impressed with the boldness of the movie's musical formula; it did a good job of reviving what it could of the classic Hollywood musical while painting it with a contemporary edge.
The characters, especially Mia and Sebastian, were strong and really likeable. No one expressed any lack of empathy, and the two leads embodied the passion of the creative arts and the romance that could come with it, down to the struggles and heartaches. And of course, Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone both deserve some credit for for how seamlessly well they blended in with the characters they played. But I think where they really nailed it was in the subtleties of Mia and Sebastian's expressions, whether they were character-specific or romantically involved.
The story was also fantastic. Much like the two main characters, it also embodied the passion of the creative arts, though it went a step further than that. The beauty of the story is that it balanced the optimistic, hopeful visions of success in Hollywood with the realistic obstacles and challenges of reaching that goal. It even highlighted the fact that no one would know what would happen during such a quest. The same could be said about the chances of romance, and the ending addressed them brilliantly and in ways that put the sweet in bittersweet.
But there's only one element of the movie that hit home for us: its themes about perseverance and never giving up on your dreams.
Like I said, the characters personified that ideal very well, most memorably when Mia and Sebastian were on the brink of quitting before helping each other, and planting seeds within each other that help get their creative juices flowing and help them continue to pursue their dreams.
The theme may also explain why "Audition (The Fools Who Dream)" was so powerful; it compiled a crazy, but very meaningful metaphor to show that while the journey to achieve our dreams may come with pain or humiliation, it would all be worth it and that we would leave it with no regrets.
On the production side, it was said that La La Land took about 6-7 years to complete, with the production starting as far back as 2010. Damien Chazelle and all the cast and crew took a gamble on this project and put forth every tender loving care into making this THE return of the musical film, at an age when films of such a genre were seen as passé. In a way, that tied in nicely with the film's themes, too.
I did say it was an overstatement to say it did its job of bringing the musical film back, but I DO hope that this will stand as a gateway for more creative possibilities to come. It would really encourage its viewers, and not just the Hollywood newcomers, to consider taking a risk with their talents and either break new ground with a new form of art or just revive an old-style art form that deserves to be brought back with a fresh, new edge, much like what La La Land jump-started with the classic Hollywood musical.
Now, I conclude this review with a phrase that evokes for us what the entirety of La La Land also established:
First, think. Second, believe. Third, dream. And finally, dare. - Walt Disney
Overall Rating: A- (Whereas Singin' in the Rain and The Sound of Music are both A+)
PS For those of you who have seen La La Land, I'm interested to hear YOUR thoughts about it. Was it better than you thought? Or did it not meet expectations for you?
Originally published on Facebook, February 10, 2017