Film & TV

La La Land Brings Dignity to Movie Musicals

It seems like every few years, Hollywood tries to sell us on the idea that musicals deserve a comeback. Whether it's Moulin Rouge, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, or Into the Woods, it never really brings back a renaissance of those MGM days. While computer technicians are able to make us believe that dinosaurs could walk among us or that superheroes could leap a tall building in a single bound, they have not this century created a convincing movie for adults where people sing and dance mid-line.

You would not think that in our society, where music is always immersed in our lives, this would be so difficult. Half the people out there seemingly already have earbuds surgically implanted in their ears, going about their day-to-day routines with their own personal musical soundtrack. It seems a 21st-century movie musical could work, but for whatever reason no one has figured out the template.

Five minutes into the new movie La LA Land, it seemed we had another example of why the movie musical should be buried with the telegram and VCR. It starts off with a showstopper on a Los Angeles freeway, where a fabulous spectacle breaks out in the gridlock and the whole cast sings a song that seems right out of Broadway. It made me want to leave the theater. But I stuck with it, and La La Land rewarded me.

The director, Damien Chazelle, previously worked on Whiplash, which was a movie about music rather than a musical. Chazelle infused both movies with a love for music and a knowledge of the dedication it takes to create it. In La La Land, Ryan Gosling is a jazz pianist who wants to open his own club and romances an aspiring actress in Emma Stone. Through these characters' career choices, the creators found a way to make the music a function of the story. The songs are inspired by a love of jazz, a love of following your dreams, and a love of love. But it isn't until the final scene that the film really and truly finds its reason for being.

Ryan Gosling plays the song "City of Stars" on piano while we see footage of what could have been and what never was between the two characters. Filmmakers have long inserted a song into scenes to manipulate audiences into feeling something. This movie uses the plot to make you feel something for the songs. After this movie's success, will future musicals be able to repeat that trick? We'll have to wait and see.
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David Rolland is a freelance writer for New Times Broward-Palm Beach and Miami New Times. His novel, The End of the Century, published by Jitney Books, is available at many fine booksellers.
Contact: David Rolland