The return of the Hollywood musical

Grade A

By: 
AARON JENNINGS AARON@LEBANONDAILYRECORD.COM

For those like my father who constantly complain about the lack of decent movies that are suitable for audiences of all ages while still being thoughtful and entertaining, "La La Land" is your kind of movie. 
 
Maybe it has something to do with the old school comedic dialogue — or the piano melodies worth downloading to listen to on the weekend — but it’s almost as if writer-director Damien Chazelle is encouraging filmmakers to return to a simpler, more romantic style of filming. Movies may have changed, but that doesn’t mean filmmakers should abandon what made them so entertaining in the first place.
 
In a way, “La La Land” is a love letter to the forgotten movies that too many ignore. Much like the Best Picture winner of 2012, “The Artist,”  “La La Land” is about the dreamers who long to perform. The people who risk all they have to do something they’ve always loved.      
 
Take Mia (Emma Stone) for instance. Mia is an aspiring actress who dreams of being an Ingrid Bergman-like movie star. She loves Bergman’s movies, but she hasn’t watched very many outside of her filmography. Unlike Bergman, Mia doesn’t have much luck with auditions, or parties for that matter. One night as she walks home after her car was towed, she hears a piano tune coming from a downtown restaurant. Inside she sees Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), a struggling jazz pianist who sees no point in playing Christmas music.
 
Mia is infatuated with Sebastian, but it isn’t until they meet again at a party does her irresistible charm attract his attention. In movies, relationships often start with a kiss. In musicals, they start with a dance.
 
Stone and Gosling don’t have the dancing background like Fred Astaire or Ginger Rogers, nor can they sing like Gene Kelly or Debbie Reynolds. But they are exactly what the movie needed. Two familiar faces welcoming young viewers who are not accustomed to the musical world. And what a wonderful world it is.
 
Chazelle has three movies to his name, and two of them are musicals. The other is “Whiplash.” In these three movies, it’s clear that Chazelle is trying to save jazz music. Now, with “La La Land,” Chazelle has the budget and the A-list actors to tackle something that once ruled the box office — jazz movie musicals. 
 
“La La Land” draws inspiration from nearly every movie musical imaginable. Consider the late night street lamp dance sequence between Stone and Gosling. These two wonderful performers, who by some miracle have the same heartwarming and flirtatious chemistry of Astaire and Rogers, recreate a dance similar to those in "Top Hat," "Swing Time," and of course, "Singing in the Rain."
 
“La La Land” may be inspired by the past, but you can bet it will inspire a handful of movies in the future. It’s the ultimate escape. A movie so sweeping, and crowd-pleasing that my jaw was sore from smiling so much. I dare viewers to not smile while watching this. It’s impossible. No matter how I look at it, “La La Land” remains remarkable in every way.
 
For starters, this is an original musical. This isn’t Broadway adaptation (not that there’s anything wrong with that) or a musical using famous pop songs (OK, there’s a lot wrong with that). “La La Land” has original music by Justin Hurwitz and lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul.
 
Each song is full of life, and each character sings and dances to these songs in retro costumes we all secretly wish we could pull off. Just like any good dance in a musical, the wardrobe says more about each character than you think.
 
Emma Stone’s colorful dresses help us remember which season the movie is set during, and Ryan Gosling’s two-tone wingtip shoes (contemplating ordering a pair) make it easy for us to see that he’s stuck in the past. Make no mistake, not one piece of lace or the coffee stained blouse is without meaning. We can thank costume designer Mary Zophres for that.
 
We can also thank Chazelle himself for making each character more interesting than the songs they sing or dance to. This may not seem important, but if filmmakers coast on songs alone, we get disasters such as “Rock of Ages,” and “Burlesque.”
 
On stage, musicals can survive without an interesting story as long as the songs are loud and large. However, movies are a different story. For a movie musical to go far, the dialogue and story have to be just as engrossing as the music. Fortunately, Mia and Sebastian have full lives to live, and they don’t have time to deliver all of their lines in a song. But when they finally do sing and dance — oh what a treat! "La La Land" is currently playing in select theaters nationwide. 

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