If a Ryan Gosling sings and only Emma Stone is there to hear it, did he really sing?
Once there was a musical. Once there were many musicals. In the Golden Age of Hollywood they were popped out like we pop-in Xanax today. However, the 60’s came and the appeal of the musical genre faded. No more Showboat. No more Singin’ in the Rain. No more Vincente Minnelli.
Since the 60’s, the musical has sparingly had an outgrowth. Sometimes it’s been resuscitated like the last remaining racist who won’t die (Just kidding. There are a lot more out there), in the form of Chicago (2002), Hairspray (2007), Nine (2009), and Les Miserables (2012).
Now, La La Land.
Ryan Gosling (Sebastian) plays one of those annoying Jazz hipsters you find in a coffee shop in Wicker Park, except this time in Los Angeles. Which could be everyone in Los Angeles, so he might be a normal person. While Emma Stone (Mia) is the chirpy can’t find a break actress found in every film about Hollywood, ever. Both spend a third of the film randomly bumping into each other at varying locations, including a Hollywood pool party where Gosling is part of an 80’s New Wave cover band. It’s as hilarious as it sounds. If Gosling can pull off one look, his only look, it’s passive aggressive weak sauce.
The film is a throwback to the Minnelli and Gene Kelly musicals in style and reference. There’s a moment when Gosling and Stone are in the park, and Gosling leaps on a lamp post to twirl around. An homage to the “Singin’ in the Rain” sequence. Much of that scene, the moment when the two characters become romantically involved are in a Kelly Singin’ in the Rain style, in terms of choreography. There’s also a focus on primary colors in every set: blue, green, yellow, and red. An homage to musicals like My Fair Lady, which created a vibrant Hollywood dream world. IKEA couldn’t be more glossy.
The opening sequence is the most musically creative portion of the film. Drivers stuck on a freeway in bumper-to-bumper traffic begin to hum, “I think about that day/I left him at a Greyhound station/West of Santa Fé.” Each driver slowly escapes from their car and begins to sing and dance. The entire freeway becomes a sound stage. It’s a unique setting and opening, much like “Follow the Yellow Brick Road.” The song performed during this sequence, “Another Day in the Sun” is the nearest the audience gets to the large scale musical revelry common at MGM’s height. Composed by Justin Hurwitz, with lyrics written by Benj Pasek, it should have taken the place of “City of Stars” (Cause a musical duet had to be nominated) for the Best Original Song category of the Golden Globes.
There are glaring faults to this film. Gosling is no dancer. Through most of his dancing sequences he can be seen starring for his spot. He never looks natural, and often appears as if he’s in the middle of a practice session rather than the real thing. Gosling and Stone aren’t singers. There are many instances where one wonders if vocally trained actors would have done more justice to the songs. Yes. Yes they would have. None of the songs are particularly memorable, save for “Another Day in the Sun.” Then again, neither are any of the vocals.
Neither actor can be blamed. Gosling and Stone both had to learn their parts, sing, and dance within two months. They pushed their capabilities for their roles. Damien Chazelle may have gotten away with lightly trained musical actors in Whiplash, here is another story. Chazelle must have been aware of this error because he decided to cast John Legend (Keith) as a smarmy, awkward, trickster to Gosling’s character. Legend is a singer, but he’s no actor. The film sinks whenever he enters on screen.
Will La La Land usher in a new era of musicals? Most likely not. Far superior iterations of the genre have arrived over the past decade, and none have done so. When musicals became the vogue, it was in a decidedly culturally conservative climate. Depression and Post-Depression audiences craved an escape from the everyday. They wanted to dream big. They wanted to be transported. They wanted the ideal.
By the 60’s, the ideal was less shinny and fuzzy. The suburbs were exposed as the suburbs. The Vietnam War began to rage. Voting Rights were at the forefront, and the world seemed a lot less glitzy. Are we on the verge of the same convergences? Maybe. But if the musical is revitalized, it won’t be on account of La La Land. While admirable and usually successful in its attempts, it’s a knock-off of the “real” thing.
The only thing left to do is to watch Gosling smirk as he lifts his co-star in the air, in the middle of the pouring rain…..
This isn’t a review for the Notebook is it? Well. Disregard everything I said, except….