La La Land (2016)
December 15, 2016 7:42 AM - Subscribe

A jazz pianist (Ryan Gosling) and an aspiring actress (Emma Stone) in Los Angeles meet, with lots of dancing, singing, and bright colors. Directed and written by Damien Chazelle. Co-starring: the city of Los Angeles. Now playing in a few cities; a wider release coming Friday December 16th.

New York Times review, plus "‘La La Land’ Makes Musicals Matter Again" and, also at NYT: "L.A. Transcendental: How ‘La La Land’ Chases the Sublime".

Ryan Gosling genuinely learned to play the piano to do this movie.
posted by brainwane (48 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I saw this a few nights ago in New York City and it was just a super fun 128 minutes. Starts with a big giant old-school musical number with beautiful audacious dancing and an audacious choice of location! Bickering man & woman dancing together and coming to nonverbally understand each other in a semi-natural park setting like Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse did in The Band Wagon! Approximately no villains! Super fun dialogue and arguments that feel real! Passionate speeches about jazz! Artists who believe in each other's brilliance! Melodramatic over-the-top lighting and surreal dances!

And it's so pretty.
posted by brainwane at 7:48 AM on December 15, 2016 [2 favorites]

OK, I started sobbing within maybe 3 minutes of the opening scene. I cried about 8 times while watching, and at various points found myself literally on the edge of my seat (don't recall that ever happening to me before) and also literally mouth agape. I left the theater exhausted!

I'm not sure, I know I'm pretty emotionally vulnerable already, so maybe if I saw this a couple years ago my reaction would have been a bit more subdued, but this had the kind of magic I always hear about in overblown descriptions of the power of film. I was completely, utterly captivated.

The AO Scott review seems very fair: It's true the songs are good but not stunning. Gosling and Stone are actors not Vaudvillian dancers and singers. But this move transported me in a way no movie ever has. I feel this sense of gratitude for this movie.

While my fingers are crossed for Moonlight to get best director and cinemetography and some supporting actor awards, and I think screenplay should maybe go to Arrival, I really hope La La Land, which is amazing in it's holistic completeness as a product, gets best picture.

posted by latkes at 8:17 AM on December 19, 2016 [5 favorites]

I've kinda been staring at this thread for two days now, wanting to contribute but not really having the words. This movie hits me on so many levels it's just hard to process it all and try to talk coherently about it. Which is why my Facebook and Twitter comment about it on the way out of the theater was just: "YAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAASSSSSSSSSSS!!!!! (This has been a review.)"

Way back in, what, July or something when that first teaser came out that was just Ryan Gosling crooning the oh-so-gloriously-melancholy "City of Stars" - within mere moments that teaser torpedoed me. Like it was targeted at me. "Let's see, what does dnash like in his art? Check, check, check, check..." Soulful romance. Rich color. Music. Classic style, current vocabulary. Timeless theme.

Like, I was seriously worried my expectations were too high and I was going to end up upset. But no, oh no, this delivers EVERYTHING. Which is what's so amazing about it. There's nothing half-assed about it - like, "oh, we kinda wanna do a tribute musical but nobody likes those so we'll temper it a bit to make today's people like it." No, no, none of that. No apologies for opening with a freeway full of people singing and dancing on their cars. Oh, and not just singing and dancing on their cars - singing a song of unbridled, unabashed optimism for their dreams, their future, their lives. And yet... obviously you in your seat know life isn't that simple. And I can't explain just how, but that opening song knows that too. Maybe it's that it starts from a traffic jam and fades back into it, so there's tension between what's obviously reality and the song, which is all the emotional stuff swirling inside the characters.

When I was a freshman in high school - this woulda been around 1984 - my English class had to read "Romeo & Juliet," and of course our teacher thought to augment this with a viewing of "West Side Story." As Tony walks down the street singing "Maria, Maria, Maria" I remember many in the class snickering with derision - like, "LOL, this is SO completely hilariously stupid that some dude would just sing this stupid song!" (And I remember thinking they were all uncultured buffoons. My artistic snobbery came first - the experience and knowledge to back most of it up came later.) What I mean in telling that story is - I feel like this movie somehow heals that dissonance of "breaking into song is silly." Like, I will admit (now) that the "Maria" scene in the film of "West Side Story" is, ok, pretty dated and hammy and not at all a good example of what a musical can be. But the songs here in "La La Land" all feel truly organic to me. Like they flow effortlessly in and out from the story and the storytelling. Like the first duet, where they're walking and bantering and then they're singing and then they're dancing, and each step each beat of the scene just happens so naturally.

(Plus - technically speaking, having watched the little "anatomy of a scene" video on the NY Times site where Chazaelle talks about that scene - MAJOR kudos to them for apparently filming that actually on location in actual twilight and still managing to get that take, with that sky and that view.)

Oh - side note - Show of hands, who noticed the "Parapluies" umbrella store in the scene when they're walking around the studio backlot?

From latkes above:
OK, I started sobbing within maybe 3 minutes of the opening scene. I cried about 8 times while watching

Totally. Me too. There were times I just sat there and let tears run down my face. Like, OMG this is everything I love, need, and want in movies, and here it ALL is, and HOW can I EVER express this feeling to anyone I know??
posted by dnash at 5:35 PM on December 19, 2016 [8 favorites]

I love the ode to Casablanca in the final scene. Paris, bar owner, piano, new spouse ...all that was missing was an airplane.
posted by leotrotsky at 10:23 AM on December 22, 2016 [3 favorites]

I wanted to like this movie. The opening number was quite something. The choreography in generally was very fun. It was shot well.

But I was really let down by the singing style. Timid and dull. As the film went on, as things started to build, I actually started to cringe, knowing that they were about to start singing, bringing everything down. That's the main reason the film had no life for me. It rarely generated any wonder, because the singing took the life out of everything. I love musicals, I like movie musicals, but this did not work for me.

This commentary, The Empty Exertions of "La La Land" from the New Yorker is close to how I feel about the film.

"Mia tells Seb that she hates jazz, complaining that what passed in her home town for a jazz radio station was used as background music for parties and everyone talked while it was playing. Seb is determined to introduce her to the real thing, and he immediately takes her to a club, where a quintet is playing some vigorous (if derivative) post-bop—and after the first few notes are heard Seb launches into his elaborate mansplanation of the origins and merits of jazz, talking volubly and inexhaustibly over the music he loves as if it were nothing but the local background station."
posted by mountmccabe at 4:14 PM on December 23, 2016 [17 favorites]

Whoa, holy takedown Batman. That New Yorker piece, well, it's not wrong. Every point seems reasonable and true. I guess Hollywood magic just worked on me on this one! No matter how irrational, I was totally transported by this movie.

More than usual, I was conscious of the director playing my emotions out, pushing scenes longer to build my response as a viewer. But it felt so masterfully planned... For me, it was a total success.
posted by latkes at 3:11 PM on December 25, 2016 [3 favorites]

I'm with you, MountMcCabe. I was really, really disappointed by this. I should have viewed the rhapsodic reviews with more suspicion: Hollywood always goes crazy for anything self-referential.

Chazelle is so self-conscious, kept stopping the film so we could pat him on the head for watching Cherbourg, or American Artist or Singing in the Rain. Yay for you, buddy, I've seen those movies, too, and they were better the first time - which is kinda your whole film's thesis?

Because of his fauxstalgia, I felt Chazelle neglected many of the other things that constitute a successful narrative such as characterisation, subplots, pacing, minor characters. I mean there are literally what, four named characters in the entire film? Only one of whom gets more than about four lines? The main characters are wafer-thin and lighter than souffles. Stone and Gosling do extremely well given the dearth of material, but who *are* these people? It contributed to a self-conscious air I felt with the film; they are characters, they are symbols, they are just representative. I think we can do better.

The songbook I didn't think was much better. There was one good song, and one pretty one; and they kept coming back to the former over and over. The rest dissolved into a kind of peppy derivative mush - understandable given the movie had such a limited tonal palette - happy, and sad.

I did like the cinematography. Not subtle, but I didn't think it needed to be. Some of Chazelle's flourishes were overplayed at times (use of spotlight for example, got a bit cray cray towards the the end there). I particularly enjoyed the longer takes and preponderance of mid and long shots.

I thought the tonal design through both sets, costumes and lighting and filming worked really well. The primary colours was derivative sure, but I didn't feel it was the kind of aping we saw with some other techniques.

I dunno man, I was really disappointed. As a musical, it really didn't work for me on multiple levels and some of them were super basic. It's a shame, because technically I thought it was strong to very strong, and whist Stone and Gosling can't really sing worth a damn, they were game enough.

Declaration of bias: One of the keystones of this film is an idea I really respond to poorly: That "old" stuff is more authentic, objectively better and a mark of a better, more refined person. There's a kind of middle-brow snobbery to it that I rebel against, and I feel it masks some quite negative racial and class issues as well. It's an undergraduate idea, I think - fedora-worthy - and one we've all been through but hopefully emerged on the other side of.
posted by smoke at 8:59 PM on December 26, 2016 [15 favorites]

Saw it yesterday, loved it. (I am a musical theatre person, so accept that as bias if you will.) And to those who mention the lack of power or impact or whatever in the vocals? I wouldn't change a thing. It's a musical, yes, but the songs are not there to be showpieces or bombastic expressions of feeling or anything. They're used as songs (and dances) should be used- to exist in the space where words just don't cut it anymore, and must be called upon to communicate the heightened thoughts and feelings that dialogue simply cannot. And in that function, they worked very well indeed, for me. Bigger, showier vocals would have negated that purpose, and called attention to themselves vs. serving the movie's atmosphere. Friends were shocked I did not share their "... if only the vocals were better!" stance- "You, of all people!" they said. But nope. I would not have changed a thing about the singing or dancing.

It was a fantasy, it was dreams, it was so barely grounded in anything remotely resembling reality; but I never wanted it to be more than it was. The moments when it briefly touched down and the souffle collapsed, only heightened the effect. I was in that world and I went where it took me and didn't look for anything more. I set aside some expository and/or character development expectations I may normally have adhered to, and dove in with no backward glance, because what I found was exactly what I wanted it to be. I didn't need to be shown more about these characters. What wasn't revealed to me, I was content to imagine.

My showing was sold out and that thrilled me, I want people to see this movie and love it for what it is, and find it charming and sweet and beautiful and nostalgic and, yes, perhaps escapist; but dammit I needed that, yesterday of all days. (When Emma jokingly calls Ryan "George Michael" in an early moment, the collective gasp that rolled through the audience was a gut-punch.) Previews for other films were depressing enough (the upcoming Boston Marathon movie, the Prohibition-era "Live By Night"). La La Land had its lows, but they were the kind of lows that ache gently and prompt tears of regret, lost love, the missed opportunity, the what-if. Those are the lows that make you remember why the highs feel so exquisite.

Stone is luminous and her every micro-expression conveys an emotion, a change of thought, a realization. In a movie admittedly unreal, to me she was a revelation of realness.

The entire thing could have taken place in virtually any decade, but for a few minor nod-to-the present-day moments. That timelessness was a cushion that let me sink into the story in a way that was utterly captivating. I loved the ending, because who hasn't flashed through the "what could have been?" with A Person You Love But Fate Decides Is Not For You? The soulmates who come together beautifully but briefly, only so each can ignite and inspire and catalyze the other... that resonates strongly with me right now.
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 4:25 AM on December 27, 2016 [6 favorites]

Adding that the appearance of Tom Everett Scott near the end of the film prompted another gasp, this one a squee of delight because he is perfection in one of my other fave movies ever, "That Thing You Do!" which in retrospect shares many elements and themes with La La Land. (So I did not mind one bit that Mia ended up with him!)

Both films are beautifully-shot cinematic love letters to places that don't really exist. And while TTYD's protagonist never went looking for his dream in the way La La Land's characters do, the parallels are still lovely.
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 5:29 AM on December 27, 2016 [1 favorite]

I thought it was fun but not close to deserving the praise it's gotten. Entertaining but hollow, and they clearly had no idea what ending they wanted.


One of the keystones of this film is an idea I really respond to poorly: That "old" stuff is more authentic, objectively better and a mark of a better, more refined person. There's a kind of middle-brow snobbery to it that I rebel against, and I feel it masks some quite negative racial and class issues as well. It's an undergraduate idea, I think - fedora-worthy - and one we've all been through but hopefully emerged on the other side of.

There's definitely some racial landmines in the fact that the artform Seb is a purist for is jazz, and that it's Ryan Gosling, one of the ten whitest guys in Hollywood, setting himself up as the purist defending tradition while every other jazz musician in the movie is black. Hell, the most prominent of them, the physical embodiment of the impure version Seb can't stand, is played by John Fucking Legend. I mean, I can easily take the viewpoint that Keith/Legend is right and the only way to really preserve the legacy of Charlie Parker is to keep evolving and pushing boundaries, but I don't think that's what the movie wants me to believe.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 8:06 AM on December 27, 2016 [13 favorites]

I'm interested in talking more about race in this movie!

In the scene where (to quote the New Yorker piece) Sebastian is mansplaining jazz, the first black people to get screen time are really a set piece to support Sebastian's emotional development or whatnot. And this is clearly and undeniably a movie about a white experience: there are no structural barriers to either character achieving success. They are white and maybe this is a movie about white privilege.

I did think that John Legend's character introduced a real human to this kind of weird understanding of what jazz is (as much as anyone was three dimensional in this stylized piece) and it was really important that there be a black voice in this movie that is about jazz. However, side characters are side characters with the limits and problems that involves.
posted by latkes at 8:20 AM on December 27, 2016 [3 favorites]

I mean, I can easily take the viewpoint that Keith/Legend is right and the only way to really preserve the legacy of Charlie Parker is to keep evolving and pushing boundaries, but I don't think that's what the movie wants me to believe.

What the movie wants you to see is that you don't have to choose one or the other. Keith gets to have his modern jazz fusion band, Seb gets to have his old school jazz combo club. Both things can coexist.

And it's not saying that "old stuff is more authentic" - it's saying that old stuff is still authentic and valuable, and ought not to be tossed aside just to have newness for the sake of being new. That "new" is better when it knows where it came from.

they clearly had no idea what ending they wanted.

Far from it, I'm sure they knew exactly what they were doing. There's the "real life" ending and the "fairy tale" ending. Maybe fairy tale endings only happen in art, but that art exists because of the heartache of the real life ending.
posted by dnash at 8:32 AM on December 27, 2016 [6 favorites]

Speaking of race, one character I wished HAD been more developed was Seb's sister, who tries to kick his ass into gear early on and kind of fails. But later she gets engaged- to a black man. Their wedding is attended by many people of color. But we learn nothing more of them, other than they eventually have an adorable child and send Seb a photo.
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 8:36 AM on December 27, 2016 [1 favorite]

art exists because of the heartache of the real life ending

I felt this too, in that nothing aches like the heart-pang that comes from the realization that just because you love someone very much does not make them the right person for you. And that the life you might have had with them is not necessarily the "right" life, or in anyway preferable to the life you actually do end up with. "Losing" that person, and that potential shared life, can feel catastrophic. That they collided in pursuit of their dreams, helped each other get there, then moved on, is not necessarily a tragedy or even at all sad (in spite of how it feels). And time usually, eventually, shows you the value and wisdom of that outcome.

In the time it takes to reach that resolution, though, every shade of the pain rainbow is played out, in technicolor and Panavision, and yes, that can become art in every sense of the word.

This brings to mind another movie I love- "Broadcast News," which ends with none of the main characters together; it's similarly wistful and sad, but also perfect. It's what happens, far more often than the stock "happy ending." They don't get what they want, but ultimately find they get what they need.
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 8:48 AM on December 27, 2016 [2 favorites]

What the movie wants you to see is that you don't have to choose one or the other.

That's not really the vibe I got from The Messengers scenes, though. E.g. Mia's face is a study of growing horror as she watches Seb play; the photographer scene is played for laughs; touring is viewed as awful stops in podunk towns; the music is explicitly viewed as beneath Seb.

I personally felt Chazelle's to Keith's question is "this film, me!" - the success of that answer I think would rely on how much you enjoyed the film, and how much you feel it's changing and growing its predecessors.

As a subtext, it didnt entirely work for me. Whilst Chazelle poses the question of and for the protagonists, I didn't think it was really answered by or with them; it's kind of thrown out there half way through, but not really resolved - and never applied to Mia - so it remains more of a digression I think, which is a shame, as there are some great movies about the creative process and how it gets compromised,
posted by smoke at 12:58 PM on December 27, 2016 [5 favorites]

the music is explicitly viewed as beneath Seb.

That was my takeaway too. While both The Messengers and Seb's are commercial successes, every scene involving the band plays it as crass and compromised and artistically Bad™, not just not to Seb's taste.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 3:21 PM on December 27, 2016 [3 favorites]

Yeah, he plays half that concert segment with his left hand in his pocket, FFS. The clear message being, "this shit is so simple I can play it with one hand (figuratively) behind my back."
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 4:37 PM on December 27, 2016 [2 favorites]

I really enjoyed this film.

HOWEVER, I'm very afraid of the jazz douchebags LA LA LAND will give license to.
posted by chrchr at 5:45 PM on December 27, 2016 [3 favorites]

I went in expecting to enjoy beautiful people being beautiful in beautiful places, and was not disappointed. Fantastic. (Re: the "Seb whitemansplains jazz" scene: I totally cracked up in the theatre at that point. My brother is a small-time jazz pianist and I'm pretty sure I sat through, like, that exact monologue when he was an obnoxious teenager)
posted by btfreek at 8:09 PM on December 27, 2016 [4 favorites]

Catch the film on the largest screen you can find, with a sound system to match, even if that means journeying all day. Have a drink beforehand. And, whatever you do, don’t wait for a DVD or a download. The mission of this movie will be fulfilled only if it is seen by those—especially kids—who have never met a grownup musical, at the cinema, and who may not know what busy thrills can bloom, without recourse to violence, from the simplest things. The sun ignites. The song explodes. Boy meets girl.

The New Yorker
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 5:36 AM on December 30, 2016

Re: the "Seb whitemansplains jazz" scene: I totally cracked up in the theatre at that point.

I had a similar reaction. I think it's meant to be pretty explicit that Seb is doing exactly what Mia was describing (talking over the music)—and that Seb doesn't see that he's doing it.

As I recall the scene, I read it as Seb failing to convince Mia of the artistic value and enjoyability of jazz. What seems to change her mind (over the course of some montages) is listening to it, unfiltered by Seb's interpretation.

There's the "real life" ending and the "fairy tale" ending

I liked that both endings showed the protagonists happy, the difference being whether they were happy and together. To the extent that the fairy tale ending is 'better', I liked that the key causal differences were a) Seb not being a jerk at a few key moments and b) the two of them supporting her career over his instead of the other way around. Not a bad moral, if the story needs one.

I also loved how the trailer's use of the fairy tale ending meet-cute in the bar at Christmas played with audience expectations. It made the real version almost palpably disorienting: wait, that's not what was supposed to happen! And then in the fairy tale ending we see what was "supposed" to happen: the fairy tale love story we were promised in the trailer.
posted by jedicus at 7:31 AM on December 30, 2016 [3 favorites]

I loved the first 10 minutes, the middle 10 minutes at the Griffin observatory and the last 10 minutes. Everything else seemed to me to be self indulgent, flaccid, and repetitive. Just like bad elevator music. I feel cheated. I am a sucker for musicals, experimental films, schmaltz and sentiment. But even I couldn't keep myself from being bored by it all.
posted by pjsky at 7:43 AM on December 30, 2016 [2 favorites]

Saw it a second time this afternoon with my mother (who enjoyed it as well!). A few more notes:

In the opening number, during the impromptu concert with the band in the U-Haul everyone is clapping along on 2 and 4, except for one stereotypically middle-aged white dude office worker who is very enthusiastically and conspicuously clapping on 1 and 3. Cute touch.

I also adore Seb's sister (and somehow totally missed the fact that she was the woman Keith married later on??). She has my favourite line in the whole film, near the beginning about Miles Davis - startled a big laugh out of me both times.

I like jedicus' interpretation of the Lighthouse Cafe scene - given what we know of Seb I think it's totally in character for him to be like, "I have SO MANY JAZZ FEELS but am unable to effectively articulate them in a way that is not slightly offputting", regardless of actual directorial intent.
posted by btfreek at 12:00 PM on December 30, 2016 [3 favorites]

Saw this today. I think the treatment of Seb and John Legend's character and jazz is really interesting because the thing is, Seb is actually kind of awful about jazz (on Pop Culture Happy Hour, they call him a jazz bro), and what I took away from it is that his pretentions and rigidity about his art and career are part of what drove a wedge between him and Mia.

They're both driven, but in different ways. He is driven to preserve what he sees as a sort of pure expression of the art form he loves - it's clear from the fact that owning the bar is his dream that this is more important to him than performing. She is driven to perform, and is willing, eager to take whatever opportunities to she gets to do so. When these two sets of values come into conflict, that's when they have their big blowup fight.

I don't know what the filmmaker intended, but given how awful Seb is about jazz, I didn't see the film as an endorsement of his views.
posted by lunasol at 11:25 PM on December 30, 2016 [2 favorites]

Anyway, I loved the film. I just found it to be two hours of completely enjoyable cinema. Ryan Gosling is not a great singer, but his performance was otherwise great, and he and Emma Stone always have amazing chemistry.

And Emma Stone! I've enjoyed her performances before but this was on a different level. So good, so affecting.

I really loved the ending. I thought it was a really interesting divergence from the old Hollywood musicals that are its inspiration, because you realize that this was not actually a romance in the traditional sense. It's less about two people falling in love as it is about two people coming together for a while, making each other better, and then going off on their separate paths - with the fantasy scenario as a nod to what we were expecting based on the romanticism of the film.
posted by lunasol at 11:31 PM on December 30, 2016 [1 favorite]

I was raised on movie musicals, and have never fallen out of love with them. I had no expectations coming into this -- hadn't seen the trailer, knew nothing of the plot, only the stars. I didn't cry, as I sometimes do, because I was too busy grinning through the whole thing. When my wife wanted to leave about halfway through the end credits, I said "Not while Emma Stone is still humming, that's not going to happen."

I don't enjoy jazz all that much, until I do, and this was enjoyable jazz. Yes, Sebastian was totally a dick about jazz, but his passion was genuine. I was a little disappointed at first by the vocal performances (his more than hers), but there seems to be a trend these days toward more naturalistic voices and they certainly didn't hurt the film. In fact, I fell in love with Emma Stone all over again.

My wife insisted on seeing it in the theater, and I'm glad she did.
posted by lhauser at 2:58 PM on December 31, 2016 [2 favorites]

btfreek, Seb's sister didn't marry John Legend (Keith); although it's easy to see why that assumption might be made. They resemble each other.
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 4:11 PM on January 1, 2017

That explains why I missed it (when there was no "it") in the first place, then - thanks for the clarification!
posted by btfreek at 8:48 PM on January 1, 2017 [1 favorite]

I thought it was a solidly 'ok' film.

It feels like the kind of movie that will be showered with awards, because Hollywood loves movies that exalt itself. It bothers me when a movie relies on lame audition jokes that everyone has seen a thousand times before. Even jazz had that same kind of...really soft humor jokes.

I liked the opening number but for the most part the music felt mostly very hesitant and quiet, like the two stars were reluctant high school choir members instead of stars.
posted by graventy at 2:14 PM on January 2, 2017

So - one of the films most often mentioned as a reference to La La Land is Jacques Demy's Umbrellas of Cherbourg. But all this inspired me to finally watch Demy's other big musical, The Young Girls of Rochefort tonight for the first time, and it's just as much of a reference point. It's so, so lovely. La La Land's biggest numbers like "Another Day of Sun" and "Someone In The Crowd" are way more like Rochefort than Umbrellas of Cherbourg.

And one of the interesting bits that stuck out to me in Rochefort compared to La La Land concerns the vocals. I didn't have a problem with Gosling or Stone's singing, but I see that others have remarked on them as maybe not so great. Well, go listen to Cherbourg or Rochefort. The singing there is also not the "Broadway ideal" of what singing can be. Both those Demy films sound very much like just normal people singing, instead of well trained Broadway singers singing. And maybe the best example of that is in Rochefort where Gene Kelly himself has a supporting part, but all of his singing has been overdubbed with some French singer.

Which is just my attempt at illustrating how the "flawed" vocals are really totally fine and exactly in keeping with what this movie is trying to be.
posted by dnash at 9:04 PM on January 2, 2017 [4 favorites]

I also felt this was fine, pleasant at most, nothing more. I went into this with no expectations except that it was a musical that had a good cast and good reviews.

The first third or so of the movie was a snoozefest for me. I felt disconnected from what was going on: between the opening traffic scene (which I read as a misdirection, since the movie didn't have any other grand numbers quite to that level – save the closing, perhaps) and the very, very, very rote encounter between Mia and Seb (they hate each other! Surely, they'll fall in love!) it felt predictable to me.

At first the “what if” ending gave me a small glimmer of hope, even setting aside the default “they cheated!” feelings I have around those types of things, but that was soon dashed and I felt deflated. On reflection it was executed well, since that's pretty much what Mia would have been experiencing at that time. But through it all I just didn't connect fully with Gosling and Stone as a couple. I didn't see the chemistry.

Also, the film was very, very white. I agree with what latkes said: “They are white and maybe this is a movie about white privilege.”

Notably, Emma Stone was pretty great, I thought. She's just a solid actor.
posted by hijinx at 5:21 AM on January 3, 2017

I saw the movie a second time and more things emerged that added to my appreciation of it as much more than a simple love story.

For a movie that opens with a huge, bright, sunny number (called "Another Day of Sun", no less), there is a lot of.. not-sun happening. Seriously, so much of the film takes place at night, or in in twilight, or under (real or fake) night skies, or inside dim, dark, spaces lit with watery blues and greens.

The opening number and the "80's Pool Party" scene are the only real "Sunny LA" parts of the whole movie. Near the end, when they "break up" on the park bench outside the Observatory, is one of the only other times when it's noticeably sunny. Mia even comments, "I've never been here during the day," and to me, that is a far deeper statement than it appears at first hearing.

She herself is an indoor creature- the stereotypical pale redhead. She embodies nothing of the California-girl stereotype. He's a pale, moody thing too, and neither one gets out much.

This is only one of things about the movie that seem to be a purposeful jab at the illusion that is LA. Nothing about it is real. Only what's inside is real and worth preserving. So all the meaningful parts of their story happen when things are small, dark, and intimate.

Yes, the hillside "meet cute" tap number is outdoors, but even it is making fun of itself. It turns away from the gorgeous skyline so the leads can tap and sing/converse in the smaller, safer bench/blacktop area, lit not by the stars but by the overhanging street light. It's a waste of a lovely night, but only because the two of them are already living more in their heads than anywhere else.

The first time they see each other for real, it's across a dark restaurant; their first conversation is at the pool party but it's not outside in the sun, it's inside, in a hallway. They walk around the backlot talking, but as soon as possible, Seb has Mia whisked inside a dim jazz club. They first touch hands inside a dark movie theatre; their first kiss is inside the fake-darkness of the observatory's artificial night sky (seriously- the real stars are glowing but they opt for the fake ones!); their first fight is inside an apartment that seems to be lit only by an aquatic light source from outside the window.

When the lights come up full-force on the Messengers' stage show, it's another revelation. But again- we're inside. Lots of light, sure, but it's all artificial.

Is it any wonder their love cannot survive the "harsh" light of day? And that when they finally realize it won't work out, and they agree to stay in love but not stay together, they are finally outside, under the sun for a change?
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 6:13 AM on January 3, 2017 [8 favorites]

I enjoyed the movie, and I liked the ending, but I disagree with the idea of casting merely adequate singers in a musical. That is not the point of a musical.

Emma Stone is amazing, though I was sad that her Big Story was not about her.

This Vox article I think explained why it felt a bit hollow -- I thought Seb was sort of an asshole from the beginning, but he had depth that Mia never got, except through Emma Stone's amazingness.

I'm recommending it, anyhow, because I enjoyed it, and I think seeing it on a big screen adds a lot; it's not a BAD movie at all.
posted by jeather at 7:51 AM on January 5, 2017

Just saw it and loved it in spite of some of the same criticisms that people have mentioned here. Neither of the leads were much in the way of singers but Marnie Nixon is gone and audiences would cry foul now if the singing was dubbed the way it used to be.

I loved the ending with the alternative history time-line running through the last song. Once they'd mentioned Casablanca, I knew that they'd wouldn't wimp out with a fake happy ending but I wasn't sure how they'd finesse it. The way that they solved that was a neat trick of showing what the hollywood ending would look like but then saying "but we're not doing that here".

I loved that Chazelle filmed the dance numbers in full frame showing their faces and feet at the same time and not cutting the numbers into shreds like Chicago did. Again, Stone and Gosling aren't Rogers and Astaire but who is? At least you knew it was them doing the dancing and not stunt people and they did fine with it.

I loved all the colors. I'm so tired of grey washed out movies that it's wonderful to see actual primary colors on the screen.

So maybe not the best movie I've seen ever but the most fun I've had in the theater in a while. Also, J. K. Simmons adds to any movie even in a cameo.
posted by octothorpe at 7:55 PM on January 7, 2017 [3 favorites]

I want to add that the previews before this movie were just horrible. There was some reincarnated dog movie, a dead kid movie where the father meets god (who's played by Octavia Spencer), a custody battle movie about a math genius little girl where the best friend is played by Octavia Spencer again and the live action remake of Beauty and Beast which looks fine seems pointless. Oh and a Boston Marathon bomber movie, like we really needed that.
posted by octothorpe at 8:02 PM on January 7, 2017 [2 favorites]

Globes cold open spoof was brilliant...
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 9:48 AM on January 9, 2017 [4 favorites]

Finally saw it a couple days ago; gotta say I was less than impressed. Oh, it was pleasant enough, with pleasant-enough actors and pleasant-enough musical numbers, but that's about it..... it certainly didn't blow me away, and I can't see what all the fuss is about; it's no better or worse than most musicals, or most movies in general for that matter.

(And from the trailer lineup, it sounds like octothorpe saw it at the same theater I did!)
posted by easily confused at 1:45 PM on January 9, 2017

I see that "City of Stars" won best original song at the Golden Globes - do people genuinely think it's a good song? I just listened to it again and, divorced from the context of the film, it's.. kind of dumb. Or at least just super paint-by-numbers, generic ~looove~ song. Baffling.
posted by btfreek at 5:29 PM on January 9, 2017 [2 favorites]

I don't know if it's a great song but it's ear-wormy as hell. I keep finding myself humming it.
posted by octothorpe at 4:10 AM on January 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

Agreed- City of Stars IMO is the least appealing and least deserving song in the film. In fact I've had it sort of percolating in my head for a few days and as so often happens with me, it morphs into something else- in this case, "Summertime" from Porgy and Bess- and now the two songs start to become a sort of mental mashup, harder to tell apart, which makes me now feel like COS is too derivative to be granted that level of accolade. And its relationship to a classic is what makes it earworm-y.
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 4:13 AM on January 10, 2017

Ms. Stone, if you set to push the yearning to the tip of my heart, mission accomplished
posted by kirkaracha at 10:47 PM on January 13, 2017

I loved parts of this film — the lighting alone was heart-breaking — but it seemed to me very much to be Singing in the Rain meets New York, New York. My enjoyment flagged when NYNY took over, and ultimately, won.

I also noticed what I thought was a hidden agenda. Others have pointed out that Mia's character seems underwritten, but I think that's being charitable to Chazelle, who I thought was contrasting Seb's saintly devotion to his art with Mia's shallow pursuit of stardom. From the opening, when she flips him off when she was the one who had been blocking traffic, to the close, which was her fantasy of how wonderful everything would have been if it could all have been about her, Chazelle stacks the deck against her. I think the film would have worked much better had it been what it appeared to be, the story of two younger dreamers who may or may not have to sacrifice their love for their dreams, but whose dreams had equal validity. As it was, it left a disturbing taste in my mouth, like listening to someone talking about a failed relationship, and trying scrupulously hard to be "fair" to the ex, but nevertheless casting themselves in a better light at every turn. Musically, I felt as if what should have been a sweet duet eventually turned into a solo rendition of "My Way".
posted by ubiquity at 11:38 AM on February 21, 2017

to the close, which was her fantasy of how wonderful everything would have been if it could all have been about her,

I agree that Chazelle is unfair to Mia, but I believe that fantasy sequence is from Seb's point of view, which I find pretty interesting. It's a reflection that he, and by extension Chazelle, know he was a dick and bears most of the responsibility for things not working out.
posted by lunasol at 1:59 PM on February 21, 2017

That didn't read as mansplaining to me. A professional jazz musician was talking to a person who didn't share their enthusiasm of jazz and wondered aloud where that came from. The musician then answered.

He'd been boorish a few times though, so maybe that colored things differently, I guess.

I do recognize that as a man I can take in people passionately explaining stuff without the extra layer of gender wrinkling things in quite the same way. But if I was his buddy, sitting next to him, hearing the same, I'd have not only not been offended, I'd have loved it and pushed for more.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 10:41 AM on February 25, 2017

I'm so up and down on this. I have been a little surprised that the things I thought would bother me have not. (And relieved that other things that do have been echoed here.)

It does not seem strangely white to me. More white than is ideal, oh yeah, but not obnoxiously, egregiously so. There are two characters who get more than nominal development and they are both white. That's true. But this may clang much more loudly because of the failure to develop characters beyond the leads more than anything.

It does not bother me that the jazz musician is white. Jazz is chock-a-block with white folks these days. Entire subgenres are heavily white. Entire audiences sometimes. Actually, maybe that is weird. That part of real life. But not that it's in the movie.

Honestly, I think the backlash about race is probably coming from frustration that this movie might snake some awards from the (IMHO) far superior Moonlight. But as has been pointed out above, a lot of that is Hollywood just loving it when one of theirs gets self-referential. This kind of pastiche of references is very fun and a stylistic achievement, for sure. It will kill me if it beats out Moonlight, though.

Another thing that makes this movie pretty white is that it's effectively a callback to the Rogers-Astaire style of musicals which are muy, muy blanco, not even simply in terms of casting, but in the aw shucks, warm glow of their tone. Stylistically, they are very white. But they are worth revisiting. And while others might have preferred a movie with more Broadway-worthy belting, I always liked those low key sing speak numbers. They're their own kind of charm. And yes, the plots are usually slight, more like vehicles to get us to numbers than anything else.

I wish this movie had come out another year. I feel like the fact that it's going to maybe kick a better movie's ass at the Oscars is so noisy it obscures its not-so-deep but delightfully Technicolor charms.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 11:15 AM on February 25, 2017

If you were rooting for this movie to win Best Picture, at least you got to hear their victory speeches, eh?
posted by DirtyOldTown at 4:49 AM on February 27, 2017

It is sort of right that a cheeseie musical with an alternate ending 'won' the oscar and then had to rewind.

Have not read the new yorker article but having just seen this on the small screen I expect I could recreate all the nits and gotchas, the characters were not hero's or real singers or omg dancers, but they really did dance and seemed to have fun dancing, hit the beat and were actually dancing. Real deep character development didn't happen but it was a fairy tale metaphor about some real stuff that happens to us, NOT a real story about realistic events. And I held off until after the credits, finishing a few dishes alone in the kitchen before the moment of racked sobs, not even sure why, don't even recall just what missed moment that show dredged up, and heck, as a side benefit it cleared out the sinuses.
posted by sammyo at 10:09 PM on March 4, 2017 [3 favorites]

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