Welcome to The Mundane Adventures of a Fangirl

I consider myself a Fangirl. What does that mean, you ask? A "fanboy" in the most common understanding is a hardcore fan of 'genre' based entertainment in particular. In my case - science-fiction and comic book based movies and television. Because I'm a chick - it's fangirl, not fanboy. There you have it! I am a big movie fan, however, not necessarily a 'film' fan. And now - I have the forum to present my opinions to the public! These will mainly be movie reviews -that will always be my opinion - repeat OPINION. Just what I think, and in no way do I present my opinion as fact. I hope you enjoy and maybe it will help you decide what to see at the movie theater this weekend!

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Movie Review: La La Land (PG13 – 128 minutes)

Far and away, the awards-season juggernaut this year is Damien Chazelle’s La La Land.  Billed as an original modern musical that tells a love story between a young jazz pianist and an aspiring actress in modern Los Angeles, it has, to date, been somewhat unstoppable. It was nominated for seven Golden Globes and won all seven.

La La Land opens with a spectacular song and dance number (Another Day Of Sun) executed on one of Los Angeles’s many backed up highways choreographed by the brilliant Mandy Moore.  It is a very catchy tune, and the bright colors and fantastic dancing can really suck you into the story.  Essentially it sets up the ‘idea’ of Los Angeles as the place people come to attempt to ‘make it’ in the entertainment industry.  The number also introduces us to the two main characters in the movie, Sebastian and Mia.  Mia is sitting in her car running her lines for an audition and Sebastian honks at her as he moves around her. I say the two “main characters”, which is a bit of a misnomer since they are really the only two characters in the movie. 

We follow Mia to her audition and quickly learn she’s been doing this for a while, and is growing tired of the audition process while working at the coffee shop on the Warner Brothers backlot.  We then follow her home where her roommates talk her into going out to a Hollywood party.  

Underwhelmed at the party, Mia leaves, only to find that her car has been towed.  As she is walking, she enters a club where she sees Sebastian playing piano.

The movie then jumps back to the encounter on the highway and we follow Sebastian to sit in front of a Samba/Tapas restaurant that used to be a jazz club, and back to his apartment where his sister has broken in and is insisting on setting him up with someone, and then forcing some quick character development on us by telling us how much he is obsessed with jazz. We follow him to the club Mia will later spot him at, and learn that he was recently fired by the owner because it is Christmas time, and instead of playing Christmas standards, Sebastian is playing his own jazz.  The owner has agreed to give him one more chance, but he wanders off the set-list again, playing his own number when Mia walks in and spots him.  He leaves after getting fired again, brushing past Mia as she was about to speak to him.

We then follow the two of them around a bit until they run into one another at yet another party.  Sebastian is playing keyboards with what seems to be an 80s cover band.  They have a conversation, and he walks her to her car where we get another little song and dance number.

He then shows up at her work, and they walk throughout the backlot while they both give some background character development and he explains jazz to her and why he loves it, and why he’s obsessed with ‘saving’ it by opening his own club and playing traditional jazz.  She explains why she wants to be an actress.  Upon getting a callback for one of her auditions, he suggests that they go to see Rebel Without a Cause.  She agrees, forgetting that she had a dinner scheduled with her boyfriend.  At dinner, she hears jazz over the speakers in the restaurant and promptly decides to end things with the boyfriend and go meet up with Sebastian to see the movie. 

Time passes, we get some dating montages as they move in together, and Mia feels motivated by Sebastian’s passion to write her own one-woman play. Sebastian, overhearing a conversation between Mia and her mother, takes a job playing keyboards in his friend Keith’s band, which is more jazz-fusion, so he essentially ‘sells out’.  He ends up on tour for a while, she finishes the play, and they have a big fight just before her play premieres. 

Well, no one shows up to the play, including Sebastian, who comes late because he had a photo shoot with his band. Mia basically gives up and goes home to Boulder City, Nevada (which is about 4 hours from Los Angeles, in case, like me, you were wondering about that).  Sebastian is feeling sorry for himself that she left, and gets a phone call meant for her from a casting agent. He drives out to get her, and let her know she has the audition.

She nails the audition, and gets the part, which shoots in Paris for seven months.  Since he’s about to go back on tour – they essentially say goodbye, promising that they will always love one another.
Spoiler alert – I’m going to tell you the end here, so stop reading if you don’t want to know.
The film jumps ahead five years, and we learn that Mia is now a huge star, with a husband and baby. Sebastian has his club, and seems to be very successfully playing his traditional jazz.  One night, Mia and her husband are out and about, decide to skip a dinner and walk into Sebastian’s club.  Mia and Sebastian lock eyes, and we get this entire fantasy sequence of how different things would have been if they had spent the last five years together, but it ends suddenly, and Mia and her husband leave the club, and Sebastian goes back to playing.

Damien Chazelle previously directed Whiplash.  I thought he did a wonderful job with this – I love the single-shot opening, I loved the colors and general look of the film.  Story-wise, it’s pretty weak, but the story is not the point of the movie.  I will say that Gosling and Stone together are fantastic. Their chemistry is great, and this being their third film together (Crazy Stupid Love – watch that, and Gangster Squad – don’t watch that), they have a naturalness together.
  • Ryan Gosling plays Sebastian and was certainly fine. The dancing is good, the singing is okay.  Really, he delivered on what he was asked to do, and honestly, he’s best when he is given funny moments.  I’d like to see him shift to a pure comedy. 

  • Emma Stone plays Mia, and again, she is certainly fine. The singing and dancing are good, and the vunerability and innocence play, as well as the frustration and determination.

  • John Legend has about two and a half scenes as Keith, the guy who asks Sebastian to play in his new band.  He’s pretty good in those scenes, but since he’s basically playing himself, it doesn’t require much stretching.

  • J. K. Simmons has basically a cameo as the restaurant owner who fires Sebastian twice.

  • Tom Everett Scott randomly shows up as David – Mia’s husband.  And the three girls that play Mia’s roommates are pretty fun, and they get to participate in the dance number to get her out to the party.

Honestly, that’s about it for the cast. You’ll notice that in their multiple Oscar noms they have no one nominated in the Supporting Actor categories, because there really are no supporting characters. They lost the SAG Award for best ensemble to Hidden Figures because that movie truly had an ensemble cast, and this one is really just the two of them.  

Personally, I thought the movie was okay, but it’s not really in my wheelhouse.  It was well executed, well-directed, and well-performed, and it is certainly more enjoyable than most award-season movies.  By that I mean that they can often be exceptional quality, but really depressing stories.  La La Land is certainly light and fluffy, and I think is nominated as much as it is because of the musical aspect, which is pretty rare these days.

So – it’s nominated for fourteen Oscars, tying All About Eve and Titanic for the most nominations ever. Is it that good? In my opinion, no – but it’s got the momentum.  Will it win all fourteen? Again, in my opinion, no, because we’re starting to see the backlash that often comes from the frontrunner when it gets out in front too early. 
The main criticisms that I have heard as part of that backlash are that it’s too Hollywood-inside, it’s too white, and it’s too inconsequential, among others. 
Yes, as they are both aspiring artists in modern L.A., it’s very relatable for anyone in that position – for everyone else, it is not relatable.  But; the music and design of the movie overcome that un-relatability issue, I think.  It’s watchable as spectacle for us ‘regular folks’, but not because we relate to the characters.
Yes, it’s certainly very white for a movie with a character that is all about ‘saving jazz’ which is historically an African American Music.  The members of his band are black, and John Legend has his two and a half scenes. Again – since there are only two main characters and both of them happen to be white, there’s not much to be done there. 
Yes, it is inconsequential, or – as I said, fluffy.  I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that, but when you put it next to Hidden Figures, or some of the other nominees (Hidden Figures was my favorite), it does seem much less important.  That doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be there, as the award is for craftsmanship, not necessarily importance, but importance does weigh in.  

I would add in as a criticism for me that I didn’t really get the ending. The movie is already light and fluffy – why not let them end up together and finish with an epic reuniting song and dance number? And really, in five years they grow that far apart that she’s married with a kid and they clearly haven’t seen or communicated with each other at all in that time? That felt a little untrue to the rest of the film, but hey – it did allow for that amazing fantasy sequence at the end, so I’ll give it a pass I suppose.

Overall, the movie was fine – I’m glad I saw it, but I will probably not watch it again.  You should see it, but you can certainly wait to rent it.
6 out of 10 – Bonus for random Tom Everett Scott and the dance sequence through the sets at the end.

Cast Interviews

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