The Hollywood musical is an often valued cornerstone of western culture, the likes of Singing in the rain, The sound of music and so on, are undisputed classics. However those aren’t the only ones that were around, hundreds were made in the thirties when the addition of sound to movies made such a thing possible. The tapering drop off since then has been drastic with a few sporadic films being turned out over the rest of the twentieth century. In basic terms, the market was oversaturated and lost interest.
Since 2000 we have seen a few film adaptions of popular stage musicals like Mamma Mia and Les Miserables. These films were only adaptions of something already established, and their true nature arguably shone through. They, like some of their predecessors, had musical performances that a film narrative was then Created around. This led to perhaps great singing and dancing performances but very little depth to the other elements in the film, such as character development. Some musical films post millennium like Once were films about music and performance, and not classic style musicals. So Musicals like westerns, became a zombie film genre. However hope has arrived, and that hope is La La Land.
I was worried going in, that La La Land would be hipster bullshit, and there is a tinge of it in the writing, the stuck up ‘normie’ business guy character shows up for thirty seconds, and the film literally dumps him. However the film succeeds in coming across more as a nostalgia piece, presenting it’s characters in an endearing fashion. The main characters learn to compromise on their hardline devotion to things not in the mainstream, at least for a while. That is essentially Ryan Gosling’s main character arc.
Yes that’s right! Characters are memorable in this film, you know their hopes, their dreams, their faults and attributes. They are written well, and have plenty to say with wide dramatic range well portrayed by the lead cast. They don’t exist to facilitate a hollow narrative around a string of performances, the performance comes from rich character moments. Said narrative also has a lot to say about the pursuit of art, compromise both in relationships and in wider life, and perhaps most importantly to the young people of today, not giving in to despair.
The visual filmic elements are refined and elegant. Wonderful set design, camerawork and lighting compliment the performances both vocal and choreographic. I especially enjoyed the use of going in and out of focus, at times that was very cool. Speaking of cool things, Matte paintings! Remember those? They’re used in this film, and they look twenty times better than generic CGI backround number 5012.
Best self aware quote from the film goes to:
Mia: Is it too nostalgic? Will people like it?
Seb: Fuck them.
So yeah, La La Land is a quality film. Will we get more like it though? Damien Chazelle and his team may continue making films centered around music (Go see Whiplash if you have not already). But not necessarily classic style movie musicals. However, this film is a hit, and when something makes big money, all sorts of wheels in Hollywood start to turn. Trends emerge two years later, mothballed musical scripts are probably being dug up as we speak. As long as the excellent format of La La Land is followed and the films have character and something to say, then I would be delighted to go see them too.
After all I saw La La Land with my mother in a cinema full of old people. Types I don’t see at movies like Avengers: call of ultron 2. This is a large niche audience that are being mostly ignored by Hollywood in favour of chasing young adults. La La Land is the type of film the studios could be, maybe should be making. People love music, they love romance and they love fun. Come on, lets hope for an ever more genre diverse timetable at our cinemas!
P.S. That ending is brilliant, Y'all are crazy.