La La Land

L.A. STORY

Main Cast: Emma Stone, Ryan Gosling

Director: Damien Chazelle

Today, being Sunday, I felt the need for some spiritual nourishment and after having my early morning mimosa and Irish Coffee, I put on a marabou peignoir and went into my four room walk in closet to find something suitable to wear to a church service. I have been an intermittent attendee at Hollywood Hills Faith Tabernacle and Day Spa for some years and I just felt the need for some communal hymns and a nice facial. I found a perfect little black cocktail dress which I embellished with a long train in fuchsia sateen and a peacock blue sash and headed for the stairs. There I was met by Leah, head of my consumer products division, wearing a divine little mask studded with the finest cubic zirconia. She informed me that in person services were passé and that I would need to attend via some sort of Zoom meeting and that I could take it on the video screen in the office. Honestly, this viral pandemic is creating havoc with my social life.

MNM zoom choir
Of course my square is the biggest. What did you expect?

I had a reasonable time with the service, lending my soaring soprano to the hymns (‘Love Will Keep Us Together’ and ‘We Are Family’). Unfortunately, most of the rest of the congregation had a rather indifferent sense of both pitch and rhythm and the delay on my wi-fi led to my high notes coming in at precisely the wrong places so the results were less than optimal. I have a call in to the church office to make sure the tapes are destroyed and that the reruns will mysteriously disappear from their YouTube channel. I must, after all protect my reputation. I must say that my ensemble looked smashing, even in the Hollywood Squares looking gallery view of my Zoom feed. I was most gratified to see that Belle Poitrine, who also attends, was looking like her makeup was done by Willem deKooning and her clothes by Georges Braque. I’ll have to tune in more often to remind the other parishioners of what true glamor can be.

After service, Mr. Jeffrey, my realtor gave me a call saying he had a line on a new property that he feels would be absolutely ideal for my relocation, somewhere over in Century City. It’s a little farther South than I would like but there would be something wonderful about returning to the site of the old 20th Century Fox back lot where I once shot Ivan’s Hoe – a medieval costume drama about a Russian knight who takes up collective farming. I played his kept woman who lived in a nearby yurt and was billed as Ivan’s Ho. I was in such a good mood, that I decided it was time for a film. As I felt the need for some caffeine, I had the kitchen whip up a gallon thermos of Irish Coffee and settled down in the home theater. My choice was La La Land, the musical tale of Tinsel Town from a few years ago, perhaps now best remembered as being the Best Picture winner for about forty seconds. Usually I made a beeline to the cineplex whenever a musical film is released, but there was something about this one that made me less than interested when it first came out, so I had not managed to catch it until now.

La La Land pays homage to Hollywood, to the conventions of Hollywood musicals through the decades, and to the actual process of film production making it operate on multiple levels at once. On the surface it’s a relatively simple take of boy meets girl, boy falls for girl, and boy and girl’s Hollywood dreams become incompatible with maintaining their relationship. The boy is Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) who has soulful eyes, a perfectly maintained week’s worth of facial hair, and the ability to play the piano. Sebastian is enamored of jazz and dreams of someday having his own jazz club while in the meantime he makes his living playing cocktail piano and keyboards with cheesy 80s tribute bands. The girl is Mia (Emma Stone), aspiring actress from a small town, working as a barista serving lattes to famous folk while she hustles to every audition she can get. The universe throws them together several times until they actually begin to talk, discover they like each other, and begin a love affair. He becomes more successful after meeting Keith (John Legend) whose pop group starts to move up the charts with Sebastian tickling the ivories. She produces a one woman showcase for herself that ultimately leads her to getting noticed and her big break. Their successes, however, put too many strains on the relationship and they part, only to be brought back together again at the end where they and the audience are left wondering what if? And writer/director Damien Chazelle answers the question in a five-minute montage/alternate universe ending which shows us all how unreal Hollywood and film is in a very meta meta way.

Chazelle handles his material with a sure hand. He knows what he’s trying to do. He’s lovingly both recreating the classic movie musical of Hollywood’s golden era and also slyly sending those conventions up with a post-modern jaundiced eye. I’m not convinced he’s entirely successful. Most modern audiences younger than fifty aren’t going to understand his visual riffs on classic tropes as they haven’t appeared in film since the 1950s and are going to be as foreign to them as the Victorians were to their parents and grandparents. Still, I give him points for trying and sticking to his vision. His visual world, a sunny color saturated Southern California that never was and never will be leaps off the screen in bold primaries thanks to cinematographer Linus Sandgren, abetted by production designer David Wasco and all of the folks in the art and costume department. La La Land opens with a stand still traffic jam on the Santa Monica Freeway where dozens of dancers, dressed like a packet of Skittles, leap out of their cars and make like the kids from Fame all over the hoods and trunks. It’s peppy and fun, but not necessarily the most polished of dancing.

Other numbers take place in a bungalow shared by multiple aspiring actresses which comes complete with pastel walls that set off their dresses and an impossibly long hallway perfect for dolly shots. It struck me as a slightly surreal update of Stage Door. A Hollywood industry party where various fully clothed extras end up executing a few moves cut from Dangerous When Wet, and, most memorably, a pas de deux on a park bench someplace around Griffith Park. Seb in his skinny tie and saddle shoes and Mia in her yellow party dress in the twilight are visually splendid and the combination has already become an easily recognized and iconic film image. The musical numbers become less frequent as the plot gets in the way, which is a pity, but they tend to be fun, although one in the Griffith Park Observatory Planetarium is a little much.

La La Land would have been better with different casting in the leads. Both Mr. Gosling and Ms. Stone are talented performers, have faces made for the camera and are capable of creating people we care about. Unfortunately, neither of them is either the singer or the dancer that the material really calls for. The before mentioned number on the bench, which is an homage to Fred and Ginger or Fred and Cyd Charisse Dancing in the Dark never really sparks to life when it’s two people who can do the choreography but really aren’t truly dancers. The producers should have gone to Broadway, found two attractive young people with talent who were truly singer dancers and let them strut their stuff. I’m sure the suits required movie names that would appeal to the young folk.

I ended up enjoying La La Land, but I would have liked it a lot more with two leads with true song and dance star power. They’re hard to find these days in Hollywood. They should, of course, have called me – I would have delivered them boffo box office returns.

Freeway skateboarding. Borrowed blue dress. Selling on eBay. Gratuitous J K Simmons. Jazz hand club patrons. aha covers. Touring Messengers. Library landmark. Fake Paris. Gratuitous Tom Everett Scott.

To learn more about Mrs. Norman Maine, see our Movie Rewind introduction, visit her entire back catalog and follow her on Twitter at https://twitter.com/missvickilester

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