Monday, 16 January 2017

On 16.1.17 by KieronMoore in , , , ,    No comments

[One very SPOILERY paragraph later on, but I'll warn you when you get there]

About halfway through La La Land, John Legend’s Keith asks Ryan Goslings’s Seb to join his synthy, poppy, electronic-y jazz band, but Seb isn’t sure, preferring to stick to classic jazz. Keith argues that he has to accept that music is moving forwards if he wants to do something revolutionary, rather than being a traditionalist recreating the old greats.

Which is an odd argument to make half way through a highly reverential throwback to classic ‘50s musicals.

Revolutionary it ain’t. Which is why I’ll be annoyed if (or do I mean ‘when’?) this beats the likes of Moonlight to nab the Best Picture Oscar, especially just five years after last time Hollywood gave it to a film about how great Hollywood is.

And yet, it’s so, so well made and I can’t for one second deny the all-singing, all-dancing pleasures of it. The story aims its emotional beats high and low, the songs are bombastically catchy, and Gosling and Emma Stone are a modern Gene Kelly and Debbie Reynolds. I could happily look at his cheeky grin and her in those Technicolor dresses all day, if I weren’t distracted by how stunning everything else in this movie is.

That shot of the two of them against the purple LA sunset – if you stuck that in a ‘name the classic movie’ picture quiz, I’d feel bad for not getting which ‘50s masterpiece it’s obviously from. There are some experimental camera techniques which you wouldn’t see in Singin' in the Rain, too – that opening long-take with the camera flowing around the freeway blew me away. Damien Chazelle has a real flair for both visuals and music, and the way he brings the two together is just incredible.

[BIG SPOILERS IN THIS PARAGRAPH] But even that’s just a natural development of a classic genre rather than anything challenging. The only trope of the old Hollywood romance which La La Land dispenses with is the happy ending. And with that... I’m not sure it was the right decision. That last scene feels meaningful – they both got the lives they wanted, but not the love they needed – but out of tone with what you expect from the otherwise uplifting story.

One thing I wondered whilst watching was whether the film would have been more progressive – artistically and politically – had a black actor been cast as Seb. It would certainly have added depth to his going on about the history of jazz if he was talking about his African American culture. Donald Glover, maybe? I reckon he has the charm. But then again, I guess it was safer to bank on a bigger star.

Enough musing. I’m off to find the soundtrack on Spotify.


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