Friday, February 17, 2017

Decoding "LA LA LAND"

Emma Stone as Mia and Ryan Gosling as Sebastian
Recently I saw the movie "La La Land" with a friend in Hong Kong. I had convinced him that from all that I had heard this was a new American musical in the grand old tradition. After all, it got 7 Golden Globe Nominations and 14 Oscar nominations. In fact, after talking with him and friends, Gay or straight, it was more a homage to Hollywood itself ... a kind of insider musical more than anything else. No one I knew liked it much. Its been a long time and Hollywood, if nothing else loves to remember its glory days and pat itself on the back.
     Growing up in the 50's we could see either in the movie theatre or the stage the original versions of great (to us today) old musicals ... "Annie Get Your Gun," "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum," "Oklahoma," South Pacific," "Singing' In The Rain" and later "The Man of La Mancha," "Company, " "Hello Dolly,""Chicago," "Cabaret" and on TV the musicals of Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, Ethel Merman and the like. There are musicals made in the 30's that have yet to be topped today, in black and white or color. In fact, watching some of those reviews in Vegas makes me pine for Busby Berkeley ... women once really could walk in high heels!
I bet LA drivers loved this freeway closing, the tour de force opening the movie
     As far a musicals go, "La La Land" is really, eh! The songs are ok, not great. I couldn't hum a bar after leaving the theater; the acting alright; Ryan Gosling, the heart throb of millions of woman did a fair job at dancing (no Fred Astaire for sure) and was good at emoting that desire for success. Emma Stone was alright but the weakest link in the singing department and not all that right for the part. She was no Audrey Hepburn, Julie Andrews nor Ginger Rodgers or even Ethel Merman.
     Visually Damien Chapelle, the director, did an amazing job of creating an eye popping movie. Many of the places used, including the Rialto Theatre, since closed, in South Pasadena brought back many, many memories of my past life. However, as visual as movies are and must be, there has to get the glue that makes it memorable.
    As my friend and I discussed this movie, over several days, he dismissed the musical part and instead focused with laser sharpness on the story itself. I agreed, and if you didn't know,  this doesn't have a happy ending ... it clearly showed the desire, the conflict of success over love, ambition and success over being in love.    
Convincing Mia Jazz was important in life
     For me, it was the missed opportunities of life. As we discussed this, I felt the scriptwriter caught this single fact with unusual clarity. I began to wonder how often do we in life have similar opportunities? How often, how many people do we meet and don't connect with like one of my favorite movies, "Four Weddings And A Funeral?" The Hugh Grant character loves Andie MacDowell while he is loved by the wealthy, frosty Fiona (Kristin Scott Thomas) and doesn't even realize it. What is the glue that attracts us?
     After several chance encounters, the freeway, the nightclub that brought Mia in to hear Sebastian and his rude ignoring of her, they finally meet, fall in love ... all the cliches of the musical. Only, it didn't end there. She wants, after 5 or so years of trying to be an actress, a success while he wants to keep "jazz" alive and start his very own club keeping jazz alive. It is this very ambition that causes them to  stray from each other and in their own rights become what they want to be. But you have to wonder ... is it who they want to be?
Keith (John Legend) offers Sebastian a job
      A friend in a "modern" jazz group gets Sebastian to sign on and they are a success. Between recording and touring they are torn apart. Her one man acting show ends up bringing her to Hollywood and success. 
     The most telling and, I believe, saddest part of the movie is that five years later you are shown her family ... new child and husband. Going to a dinner they get mired in the usual legendary LA traffic, get off the freeway, have a private dinner together and heading back to their car hear music from a new club. Going inside she sees the name and logo she designed for Sebastian years before, hear's jazz and once inside they see each other as the song goes, "Across a crowded room." Suddenly you are transported to another life, a life that could have been ... their marriage, their child, but like all things, reality strikes while he plays "their" song. She leaves and with her leaving all hope for the reconciliation you long for.
     Its hard to make a judgement on a movie. You either like it or you don't. However, in this case the musical part, to me, is wanting. The character part asks serious and probing questions. Are our lives designed by us or are they guided by forces beyond our control? We may never really know.

Thank you for reading my blog. I invite you to take the time to read earlier blogs where the emphasis here is to explore the ways art and design affects our daily lives ... and always have. Comments are always welcomed!

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