Monday, January 23, 2017

City of Stars

La La Land
Director: Damien Chazelle
Cast: Emma Stone, Ryan Gosling, John Legend, Rosemarie DeWitt, J.K. Simmons
Released: December 9, 2016
Viewed in theaters: January 11, 2017

Oscar nominations:
Best Picture
Best Director - Damien Chazelle
Best Actor - Ryan Gosling
Best Actress - Emma Stone
Best Original Screenplay - Damien Chazelle
Best Cinematography
Best Film Editing
Best Production Design
Best Costume Design
Best Original Score - Justin Hurwitz
Best Original Song - "Audition (The Fools Who Dream")
Best Original Song - "City of Stars"
Best Sound Mixing
Best Sound Editing 

Okay, confession: if I had to pay to see this movie, I probably would have just waited to see it on DVD. But since I saw this with my parents and wouldn't have to pay to see it, I was more than happy to check it out and actually liked it more than I thought it would. For the most part, I do like musicals, but I was horribly scarred by the last one I saw in the theaters (at least, I think it was the last one I saw in theaters!): the horribly never ending and dreadfully boring, Les Miserables. Oh. My. God! I HATED, no LOATHED that movie so much! So much so that it turned me off of musicals for quite awhile. One of the (many, many!) reasons I hated that movie so much is that EVERY SINGLE LINE is sung in that movie and it's like, AUGH! SHUT UP!! Luckily, La La Land is not like that. At all. In fact, I've heard a criticism that there aren't enough songs in it. I can kind of understand because sometimes it feels it goes awhile without any songs and while I think a couple more songs would have been fine, I'm glad it's not all singing because that would get really old, really fast. I like the musicals where there are a handful of songs, but the characters don't sing every single line in the movie. There are homages to other musicals in this one. If you didn't catch the Singin' in the Rain one, well, that's just sad because that one was pretty blatant! I got a Moulin Rouge vibe from the dance scene at the planetarium. (Although it was much more toned down in this movie!)

The movie definitely reels you in from the beginning with its first song called "Another Day of Sun". It's not sung by any of the stars of the movie, but rather just by L.A. commuters (I mean, obviously they were trained dancers and singers!) The premise is a big traffic jam on a freeway in L.A. and everyone gets out of their car and starts singing and dancing. I was really impressed that this impossible scene was filmed and I thought how irritated people must have been that they shut that stretch of freeway down for who knows how long. Okay. I just checked Wikipedia. It was closed for two days. It's a pretty impressive scene and if memory serves right, it's all taken in one long shot.

This is the third time Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling have starred in a movie together as romantic partners. If you're like me, you remember they were in Crazy, Stupid Love, but probably forgot they were in Gangster Squad. Actually, I've never seen that movie, so they could play siblings in that one for all I know! In La La Land, they play Mia and Sebastien, who both live in Los Angeles and are trying to pursue their dreams. Mia wants to be an actress and we see many scenes of her auditioning for some kind of role or another. She lives with three other roommates and works at a coffee house. She's originally from Nevada and we learn she wants to be an actress because she grew up watching old movies. We see her at many auditions throughout the movie and I just wanted to scream in frustration for her. I would hope that casting agents aren't this blase (pretend there's an accent mark over the e) in real life, but who knows. When we first see her auditioning for a role (wearing a coat because a customer spilled coffee on her shirt and she didn't have time to change), it appears to be a dramatic role where she's speaking on the phone to someone and it's obviously a serious scene because she starts crying, but during all this, the casting agents are talking and someone walks in to interrupt. She keeps going though, and is quite good, but doesn't get the part. We also see her try out for cop and medical dramas. (God knows there's enough of them on TV!) Her big break almost comes when she gets a call back for a show that she says is Dangerous Minds meets The OC, haha. How would that work anyway? Is it a show about inner city rich kids? Or a show about a teacher at a rowdy prep school? The whole premise was ridiculous and Mia was trying out for the teacher role and there were some pretty funny lines during her audition like, "No, Jamal, you be trippin'" or "Two options: you either follow my rules or follow my rules. Capiche?"

Sebastien is passionate about jazz and wants to own his own jazz club to keep that genre of music alive because he fears it's a lost art. In the meantime, to make money, he plays a piano at a restaurant but is fired when he forgoes the Christmas songs he's suppose to play in order to pay a piece he wrote himself. His boss (played by J.K. Simmons, who was in Whiplash, which Chazelle also directed) fires him on the spot and Sebastien storms out. Mia had heard the music and came into the restaurant to listen to him play and is about to compliment him, but he just brushes abruptly past her. The movie is divided into seasons (much like the Gilmore Girls Netflix revival!) and they (of course) meet up a few months later.

They soon start dating and encourage the other to follow their dreams. Mia feels maybe she isn't good enough because no matter how many auditions she goes on or how many call backs she gets, there is always someone who is prettier or more talented than her that ends up getting the job. That's just one reason why I would never want to be an actor (you know, other than the fact that I can't act!): it would just be so frustrating to get rejected all the time because you know that 99.9% of people who go out to Hollywood to make it big never get their big break. At least maybe they can get a small role on one of the thousands of TV shows that are out there! Sebastien tells Mia instead of auditioning, she should just have someone come to her and write her own play, so she does that. Only a handful of people come to her one-woman play (I've never had any desire to see those kinds of plays...luckily I don't have any friends who are involved in the theater!) including her three roommates. To her dismay, Sebastien isn't there and she hears people talking badly about the play when she's in her dressing room.

Mia is excited for Sebastien to start his own jazz club which he wants to call Chicken on a Stick (horrible name!), but Mia tells him she should call it Seb's with a saxophone for the apostrophe. (Much better name!) Even though Mia doesn't like jazz when she first meets Sebastien, she soon comes to appreciate it through his appreciation and admiration for it. Me? I'm not a jazz fan, as I find it to be screechy to the ear, but I could also almost be turned into a fan through Sebastien's passion for it. If you've ever listened to the podcast called Extra Hot Great, you may be familiar with their "Is This Worse Than Jazz?" section. I would say La La Land is NOT worse than jazz. Sebastien puts his dreams on hold to be a keyboardist in his friend's, Keith's (John Legend) jazz band. He begins to forget about his dream once he starts making money and Mia is angry with him and this leads to one of many fights they will have.

I am about to get into spoiler territory so continue on at your own risk! Seriously, I am about to spoil things in the movie so don't read any more if you have not seen La La Land yet and DO NOT WANT TO BE SPOILED!! You have been warned!

Okay, so of all the coincidences in the world, a casting agent happens to be one of the seven people who saw Mia's play and wants to audition her for a movie. By this time, Mia, after having a fight with Sebastien and thinking acting is not for her, has moved in with her parents in Nevada. Sebastien has gotten the call from the casting agent and convinces Mia to go back to Los Angeles to audition which she does and ends up landing the job which is in Paris. We get a "Five Years Later" time stamp and see that Mia has become the famous actress she has always longed to be. Mia has always had to serve coffee to the movie stars and now she gets to be the movie star who is being served the coffee. Sebastien has finally achieved his dream of opening his own jazz club. And thankfully he went with Mia's idea of calling it Seb's and not Chicken on a Stick! However, we get a gut punch when we see Mia walk into her home, greet her toddler daughter, then kiss her husband...who is NOT Sebastien! Uh, what! He is played by Tom Everett Scott and I guess Chazelle asked him to be in the movie because he was a fan of That Thing You Do (I get the feeling Chazelle is a fan of the jazz, haha!)

Mia and her husband take a stroll and decide to check out this new, popular club which Mia immediately realizes is Sebastien's jazz club. There's a scene where we see what would have happened if they had stayed together. My mom thought it was Mia's daydream, but I thought it was Sebastien's because in this daydreams, he kisses her at the restaurant the night he lost his job instead of shunning her. Who knows? Maybe they were both imagining the same thing at the same time. Because they are that connected.

I predict this movie will win the Oscar for Best Picture.