Where 'La La Land' fits among movie musicals about show business
Posted January 18
With all the praise being heaped on “La La Land,” perhaps it’s time to put the hype into perspective.
Is “La La Land” a good film? Yes, very good.
Is it an artistic, entertaining and jubilant homage to musicals of old? Absolutely.
Is it the best film of the year? Well, that’s more debatable.
Yet, judging by the number of trophies it has earned at other awards ceremonies, “La La Land” is definitely on track as an Academy Award front-runner for best picture, as well as several other categories (nominees will be announced next Tuesday, Jan. 24).
The most notable — in terms of popularity, if not prestige — is, of course, the Golden Globes. “La La Land” won in seven categories, setting a record for wins by a single film, according to the L.A. Times.
Actually, if you want to get an idea of just how many awards and nominations the film has racked up so far, check out the “La La Land” Internet Movie Database page under the “awards” link.
To digress for a moment, this IMDb page will also give you an indication of how ridiculously out of hand movie awards have gotten. “La La Land” has received recognition from dozens of different organizations!
Granted, many of these accolades are from movie critics’ groups (hey, anything to make us appear relevant) but others are from the usual showbiz associations that like to pat their own backs and pave a path to the Oscars.
Anyway, getting back to “La La Land” — I enjoyed the film very much. After all, it’s another example of a movie that is reviving a genre that Hollywood all but ignores these days — and which I miss.
Not that we don’t get musicals now and again, even if they are more often about people singing in some sort of staged setting, such as “Pitch Perfect” or “School of Rock” or “Walk the Line.” But that’s actually in keeping with a long history of Hollywood musicals set against a show-business backdrop, from “42nd Street” to “A Song Is Born” to “Rock of Ages.”
But there have also been recent adaptations of stage hits, from “Into the Woods” to “Les Miserables” to “Dreamgirls,” as well as some recent independently produced musicals — “The Last Five Years,” “Sing Street” — that haven’t had much of an impact.
The big, splashy Hollywood song-and-dance spectacle, however — especially an original musical made specifically for the big screen (think “Singin’ in the Rain” or “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers”), with people bursting into song in the midst of a dialogue sequence or suddenly dancing up a storm — those are more rare.
So “La La Land” is most welcome for those of us who enjoy the genre.
And the film follows a familiar template — it’s big, exaggerated, fanciful and a lot of fun. There are new songs that are both memorable and hummable, and it opens with a jaw-dropping sequence that sets the stage for what’s to come, the kind of thing you talk about afterward, and which makes you want to go back and see it again.
In many respects, although it isn’t a period piece, “La La Land” is also rather nostalgic. Not only because it’s a musical but also because it’s so joyous.
Really, how many 21st-century movies send you out of the theater feeling happy?
But all of that is not to say that it’s a perfect film.
Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone are having a great time and giving it their all, and they are pretty good singers, especially Stone, and as dancers they’re OK.
And you have to give Gosling credit for learning to play the piano for the film and doing such a convincing job of portraying a professional musician, and Stone is winsome and enchanting, humorously conveying the horrors of auditions for aspiring actors.
But they also aren’t going to make you forget Frank Sinatra and Doris Day or Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers or Gene Kelly and Cyd Charisse.
Another digression: Something I’ve long puzzled over is why Hollywood filmmakers don’t go after some of the amazing talent performing in Broadway musicals. There are a lot of enormously talented singers and dancers that hit it big on the New York stage but remain unknowns in the hinterlands.
It should also be noted that there are “La La Land” moments that seem out of sync with its obvious efforts to strive for an old-fashioned sensibility. Not the least of which is throwing in some modern vulgarities. Do Gosling and Stone really have to meet-cute with a rude hand gesture? And did Gosling really need to utter the F-word, for no apparent reason other than to ensure a PG-13 rating?
“La La Land” has the potential to sell more tickets by reaching out to an untapped older audience that has more or less given up on moviegoing, but moments like these can make it a difficult sell to that disenfranchised market.
So, back to the original question, is “La La Land” the best picture of the year? Well, not from this corner. But it’s certainly in the top 10.
And where would it rank with some of the classic musicals of yore? Well, let’s give it a few years before we start making those comparisons.
Meanwhile, it would be nice to see its box-office riches translate into more musicals that send us out of the theater in a state of bliss.
Chris Hicks is the author of "Has Hollywood Lost Its Mind? A Parent’s Guide to Movie Ratings." He also writes at www.hicksflicks.com and can be contacted at email@example.com.