La La Land – This movie is so glorious I actually cried tears of joy in the theater

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I knew I was going to love La La Land, Damien Chazelle’s new film musical, but I wasn’t really ready for how it made me feel watching it in the theater today.  Damien Chazelle blew me away with Whiplash, an intense movie about a jazz drummer which opened Sundance a few years ago, and garnered J. K. Simmons a Supporting Actor Oscar.  The success of Whiplash let him make the musical movie he’d always dreamed of.

I went to see La La Land alone today because I. Could. Not. WAIT, but I will be dragging everyone I can to go see it on the big screen.  I want to see it as many times as I possibly can.  Critics have swooned, even Manohla Dargis wrote about how swept away she was watching it the second time.

I love movie musicals.  I live and breathe them.  I fell hard for Fred Astaire, adore Gene Kelly and the list goes on.  Those films of the past had magic.  Yes, they were earnest and wore their heart on their sleeve, but can anything convey like a song that heavenly feeling of falling in love?  Musicals have fallen out of fashion in cynical Hollywood as of late.  They are rare or you have to watch a Disney animated film to see one.  I have turned to Indian films to get my musical fix.

 

Today, in the theater, Damien Chazelle gave me the most precious gift.  He gave me a Hollywood musical, steeped in the traditions and with a love for Hollywood musicals of the past, and also fresh and adult and modern.  The movie made me smile from the first frames as an LA traffic jam leads to people getting out of their cars to dance and sing.

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Then we meet Emma Stone’s Mia, a struggling actress and Ryan Gosling’s Sebastian, a struggling Jazz piano player.  They run into each other a few times and banter before this glorious spontaneous dance:

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How gorgeous is that shot?!  The sunset on the hills, her yellow dress and red hair.  How they have those matching shoes.

There are bumps along the way, but one night they go to the Griffith Observatory after seeing Rebel With A Cause.  And then they fall in love, and the music takes them up into the stars.  I seriously started crying tears of joy at this.  I didn’t just choke up.  Tears were running down my face I was so happy.

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I loved all the camera tricks that Chazelle uses.  He’s studied the masters and gone even a step further.  This is a film where Damien Chazelle takes the every day and makes it part of a musical number.  We meet Mia’s roommates and a blow dryer gives Mia a moment worthy of a Bollywood number:

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People don’t just walk down the street to a party – they do this:

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I was only hoping for a few big musical dance numbers, but this a full fledged musical film with songs and dances throughout from start to finish.  The music is all original by Justin Hurwitz who also provided the score for Whiplash.  Ryan Gosling’s character is a jazz musician who is always composing and working on his music, so it makes sense in the film for moments like this one:

 

This is hands down my favorite film of the year.  It’s about a guy and a gal falling in love and struggling to make their dreams come true.  Maybe it doesn’t have the weight of Manchester by the Sea, or the important issues of a film like Moonlight.  But I cried more than once — for joy and for the beauty of it all.  That final sequence just left me again in tears it was so perfect.  So beautiful.  So bittersweet.  This is not a saccharine sappy film.

Chazelle fought hard to get this cast.  He had to really convince Emma Stone to make the leap and she didn’t make it easy.  Ryan Gosling took piano lessons for months so that he could convincingly play the piano in the film without editing cheats.  Gosling and Stone have shown in films like Crazy, Stupid Love that they have that X factor chemistry between them.  This film was almost cast with Miles Teller and Emma Watson.   Thank God Stone and Gosling became available — Emma Stone is likely to win an Oscar nomination for this film.

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La La Land is romance at its best.  Damien Chazelle has captured magic in bottle.  I plan to partake again and again.

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The Return of the Hollywood Musical with La La Land

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Manohla Dargis of the New York Times, wrote an article last week about La La Land and the state of the Hollywood Musical:  ‘La La Land’ Makes Musicals Matter Again

The first time I watched Damien Chazelle’s musical, La La Land, I thought a lot about how it worked, about its form, his craft and how the lickable candy-colored costumes bring to mind both M&M’s and Jacques Demy.  I thought about how Mr. Chazelle and his stars, Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, fit into the history of the film musical. When I went to see La La Land again, I was in a terrible state, and this time I just fell into it, gratefully. I surrendered. Afterward, I realized that this is what it must have been like to watch Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers during the Great Depression.

I have a passion for musicals.  Back in the day  — gather children and hear about the dark ages before DVDs – I would set my alarm to get up in the middle of the night when an old Fred Astaire movie was playing on TV.  Then we got a VCR and I’d tape them to watch over and over.  It was pure magic.  The dance becoming part of the expression of the characters that she describes in La La Land is just what I found in Astaire/Rogers numbers like ‘Night And Day’ from my favorite of their films, The Gay Divorcee.  That exquisite Cole Porter music, and their magical romance through movement.

I watched the Gene Kelly musicals, too, but Fred was my first love.  He even dances in roller skates with Ginger in ‘Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off’ in Shall We Dance.

Hollywood has done musicals in the modern era — God bless you Baz Luhrmann for your crazy wonderful movies like Moulin Rouge.

And there have been the sporadic adaptations of Broadway hits, like the dark cynical Chicago and the recent Into the Woods.  (Which gives me the perfect excuse to include my favorite song from Into the Woods, the ‘Agony’ duet of Chris Pine and Billy Magnussen.)

 

There has really only been a sporadic spotty record of musicals from Hollywood in recent years, and not the steady diet I craved.

Then, I discovered Indian Cinema, and that void in my life was finally filled.  For others, the music numbers are an excuse to visit the bathroom, but they are the main event for me.  I love the earnest love stories and the emotions, and just ….ALL of it.  I love the BIG numbers, and the intimate duets in mustard fields.

 

Contemporary American movies could use more s’wonderful, more music and dance, and way, way more surrealism. They’re too dull, too ordinary, and too straight, whether they’re mired in superhero cliches or remodeled kitchen-sink realism.  One of the transformative pleasures of musicals is at even at their most choreographed, they break from conformity, the dos and don’ts of regimented life, suggesting the possibility that everyone can move to their own beat.

Amen, sister.  Amen.

Manohla talks about Damien Chazelle’s passion for the old musicals I love, the Fred and Ginger movies, the Gene Kelly masterpieces.  Every article I’ve read about La La Land just raves and raves that “they don’t make movies like this anymore.”  Thank God someone in Hollywood finally is….again.  I. Can’t. WAIT!  December 9th can not come fast enough.