Thursday, February 23, 2017

La La Land


La La Land, to the best of my recollection, is the first musical I have ever seen only because I swore to finish this personal project of seeing every 2017 Oscar Best Picture Nominee.

As expected I find it hard taking the acting seriously and subsequently the story when people break out to sing and dance. So instead of a character I focused on a song and City of Stars stood out. The song was my emotional goal post. I appreciated the ending because through it I understood why.

It certainly had enough repetition.  City of Stars was played more than three times, sometimes it was sung and sometimes it was only instruments. I was about to say duet but considering this is a musical – my first one – I’m not so sure what a duet is with songs taking in place of a dialogue. Let’s just say it was the song Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) and Mia (Emma Stone) sang as one, with a common message; verses do not answer back at each other. The song repeats and evolves like a character.

Sebastian sang it first, alone at the pier:

City of stars
Are you shining just for me?



Beautiful lines that could be the start of every prayer of anyone with dreams in Hollywood. It could have opened with something else: their parents, cupid, maybe God; but always there is reference to the city of stars.

City of stars
There's so much that I can't see
Who knows?
Is this the start of something wonderful and new?
Or one more dream that I cannot make true?



Sebastian’s still personal song ends with dread derived only from constant disappointment; not of love but his art. Sebastian is a jazz pianist and jazz is dying.

As the song repeats itself in the movie it grew and was added upon like the relationship. The lyrics do get skewed into more romantic tones; Mia adding more verses that had love in it. But even when she sang her part it always comes back to, City of Stars. Hear the words but see the background.

Sebastian and Mia are first and foremost two artists with a dream, love is a bonus but . Sebastian is trapped under the heavy tide of people who don’t listen to jazz which is why he hopes for enough money to create his own river, a jazz bar. Mia, receiver of many casting rejections, is just drowning in the many beautiful faces in Hollywood. Would they chase their dream or go with the flow?

Gushy people will no doubt have Late for a Date on top of their list rather than City of Stars. Late for a Date is love theme for Sebastian and Mia, a leitmotif. It merely reflects the love - their musical version as it were - but as it is, not the motivation of the relationship. 

From a novice perspective I can understand why La La Land is the leading contender in the Oscars. Choreography alone puts Fences to shame many times over. Production design is excellent. And then it feels like La La Land goes up and down the emotional spectrum almost musically: fear, frustration, love, sadness, happiness, of course music.

Question is do I say that only because it’s a musical?  Wouldn’t comparing La La Land to the others be an apples and oranges kind of deal?

As for watching my first musical, I am not sure it’s the genre for me. The songs I had to google. Had it been just straight up dialogue I would have gotten words at my second watching. It feels that I did more reading than watching or listening to get the nuance of the song or emotional tone of the scene.

Which is not to say the songs are ugly, they are actually very beautiful especially those I mentioned. In fact the song and dance are too beautiful that memory of the movie that I have only recently seen fragments down into individual songs.  

It is also the reason why I stuck with a song to frame this review. The next question feels like what's the use of the other songs. City of Stars is the movie. It’s the only song evolving.

After riding on City of Stars I was passed on to the last rendition of Late for a Date.  The two themes actually go hand in hand into a conclusion and it is straight to the bone real. Beautiful.