La La Land – Reviving Musicals

Musical Film is an endangered genre in today’s Hollywood. Like Western it vanished in the 1950s with the advent of the modern age of cynicism and complexities. There was a time in the last century, when musicals like Top Hat and Singing in the Rain mesmerized the audiences. Even today, when you watch Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers Dancing Cheek to Cheek you fall in love with them, and yourself. When Gene Kelly is Singing in the Rain, you remember that one day in your life when you danced in rain with no one watching. Those were good old days of innocence and magic.

Gosling-Stone are definitely not Astaire-Rogers or Kelly-Charisse. They lack their fluidity and grace. The old masters danced effortlessly, sang melodiously. They were sublime in song and divine in dance. Yet, Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone have something magical too, call it chemistry or earthly charm. When Fred Astaire danced, you could never imagine yourself dancing like him. When Gene Kelly sang you knew it was beyond your vocal cords to carry a tune like that. But when you see Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, tap dance, you chuckle at that awkwardness and hear say to yourself “I can do that”. You relate to them, as if they are someone whom you know and have met. This rawness is not a bad thing actually. La La Land becomes accessible because its stars are all too human, and their romance all too real.

La La Land is a story of two dreamers. Mia is an aspiring actress and Sebastian is a struggling Jazz Musician who wants to start his own Jazz Club. The actress goes to auditions and is rejected even though she is good. She meets the young Jazz pianist and like in the old musicals, the first two meetings end badly. Yet they fall in love, and sing and dance and paint the town in vibrant dopamine colours. They are driven by their dreams. Seb wants to start his own Jazz Club as he wants to stop Jazz from dying. He wants Jazz to remain pure, unadulterated. Circumstances, and love for Mia, propel him to join a Jazz band which is tinkering with Jazz to make it more accessible to the youngsters. Mia adheres to her dream, and writes a one-woman play. The play fails and Mia is about to give up her dream too. Will they end in the dustbin of failures where majority of dreamers end? Does following a dream mean sacrificing another? La La Land deals with such questions. It is a modern musical where characters make difficult choices. It is a story of dreams, failures and sacrifices.

Damien Chazelle, that young prodigy, had made Whiplash a couple of years back. It was an intense movie about the relationship between a Jazz drummer and his sadistic mentor. It had the tempo of a thriller, this one has the vibe of a romance. The film is well written. Some of the scenes appear so natural that you feel you are watching them unfold in real space around you. Like the one where the two lovers have a conversation at home before Seb goes on a tour with his band. In about five minutes their relationship travels the whole gamut of relationships – love, blame, hurt. The scene shows that raw emotions are lurking beneath the surface to come out, anytime. The movie is also not afraid to make use of silences, and that’s a rarity in a musical. It has a bitter-sweet end, but it is appropriate for our age.

Its songs are good. It has an earworm in the form of City of Stars, an eminently hummable song. The movie opens with an energetic dance(Another day of Sun) on a crowded Los Angeles Highway ramp. It ends with a colourful dream sequence inspired by the old musicals, especially The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. In the last few weeks, La La Land has gathered numerous accolades. Does it deserve its 14 Oscar nominations? Is it the greatest musical? Let’s leave these questions for posterity.

It is good cinema, period. Something that allows us to leave our present worries and fly off to an era when life was easier and the people sang and tap danced to happiness. Catch it for the charisma of the stars and some good old vibes. Catch it in this week of love for the bitter-sweet destiny it projects for young romance and passionate dreams.


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