La La Land. This film has swept on a tidal wave of positive media hype, glowing reviews, awards and award nominations onto movie screens across the world. Does it deserve all the praise? Absolutely! Why? I will tell you. Brilliant direction, great performances from the lead actors, wonderful cinematography and a great story line. This is not just a pastiche of the Fred and Ginger musicals of old. It pays loving homage to them but this is a very contemporary
2016, 2017 musical
Now you may be asking why I, a blogger who writes about horses , am writing a review about a Big Hollywood Film. It’s because this is a bold film that takes us on a terrific ride. And my qualifications as a critic? Suffice to say I worked in the film industry for long enough to qualify as a film critic.
A musical. Who would dare to do a musical nowadays? A brave director that’s who and Damien Chazelle is that director.
Musicals may look easy but the daunting task is this; how do you get actors to transition from walking along talking normally into singing and dancing. If this transition is not completely convincing the audience is lost and they start looking their watches and wondering if they could still get in to see the action film in the theatre next door. Early in La La Land there is just such a transition. Damien Chazelle handles this beautifully. Ryan Gosling, as a struggling musician and Emma Stone as an aspiring actress are talking and walking and then they begin to sing. Then they quite casually they start to dance.
Great performances! These are the ones that you totally accept as being real. You forget they are actors and believe they are the characters they are portraying. Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, who portray the central characters do this without any of the “work” showing on the screen. These two actors have worked together before and the chemistry is there. I believed them and I cared about what happened to them. Apparently, they worked for months on the dancing as neither of them were dancers. Gosling also spent four months learning to play the piano and there is no “double” he is actually playing in all of the scenes.
Cinematography! This movie was shot on film. There is nothing digital here. No special effects that have been created on a computer. This is old school. In the scene where the two young people start to dance and sing it was shot on a hill with Los Angeles as a backdrop. And not just any backdrop. It was filmed at “magic hour”. This is a phrase in the film industry that refers to filming at sunset. There is a “magic” light at this time but it is very short lived. So here you have a scene with singing, dancing around on a hilltop and the sun has gone down and it is now twilight. This scene was shot all in one take. One take. Just like Fred and Ginger used to do. But….if one of the actors makes a mistake they have to go again right from the top. And the light is fading every second. Soon the ‘magic’ will be gone.Also worth considering is the fact that the two actors are backlit by the twilight sky so the cinematographer has to compensate for that with “fill” light and he has to cover a large area so that everywhere the couple dance they will be lit. If they do need a second take then the cinematographer has to re adjust the lighting to compensate for the fading light in the background. And time is ticking all the while.
I know, you don’t need to know all this. You will just be sitting in the theatre enjoying a wonderful song and dance number with a young couple flirting and falling in love. Magic.
There were many moments in this film where my heart soared. I can understand why so many reviewers have heaped praise on this film. The film reviewer for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation TV gave it 6 stars out of 5. Another said she came out dancing on air. So did I. I felt like I could dance out onto the parking lot humming a tune.
This film is engaging , entertaining and blissfully different from any other film currently in movie theatres. It is a modern departure from the old-school musicals . This musical is now.
I suggest you go and see it.
Also here is a link to an interview with director Damien Chazelle on the CBC radio program Q. Very interesting to hear what a difficult process it was to get this film off the ground.