BY ROGER THOMAS
One of my favorite treats of the “Holiday Season” is the films that come our way. The studios hold back the films they believe will get “award attention.” Therefore as the year winds down, we are blessed with an abundance of great cinema.
When I first heard of “La La Land” I was skeptical. Could a modern musical with all original songs and two actors not known for their vocal skills become something poignant, passionate and nearly perfect? If you had asked me that question, I would have said, “I will believe it when I see it.”
I have seen it now, twice actually, and “La La Land” is one of the best films of 2016 for a whole host of reasons.
First, there is an opening song that is nothing short of amazing. I literally sat in the theatre thinking “They are reaching too high too soon. The rest of the film cannot compete with these first four minutes.” Of course, I was wrong. The St. Louis Film Critics Association awarded the opening few moments of “La La Land” as the best scene of any film this year.
That scene is extraordinary, but so is much of the rest of the film. The music often gets your toes tapping. I know it did mine. But there are also many other emotions that are generated by the songs: sadness, joy, anger, fear, disappointment and, of course, love.
Beyond the grand choreography of much of the film, there are other elements that fill this visual tapestry. One of the first things noticed is the vivid use of color. A bright palette is used often and always appropriately.
Another aspect of the visuals is cinematography. On my second viewing of the film, I marveled at how many shots are simply incredible. Once one knows where the story is heading ,it is easier to focus on some of the inspired choices of the filmmakers. Over and over again, the film offers brilliant pictures.
Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling are the two leads. Both have received Oscar nominations in the past: Gosling for “Half Nelson” and Stone for “Birdman.” Both seem destined to receive their second nominations for their outstanding work in “La La Land.” Both actors will be a part of a crowded list of talent this year, but I, for one, hope they catch the attention of Academy voters. I do not remember a recent love story better portrayed in a comedy musical.
Another element of the film is the promotion of artistic works. The most moving song in the film deals with the power of those who can “dream” and produce art.
Which brings us to the story. It is a simple one. Girl meets boy by accident. Then they meet again, and again and again. Early on, they are both cautious. Then they fall in love. Then life intrudes and challenges their romantic life. It is not the originality that sets this story apart. It is the presentation, though make no mistake, the story is grand! There will never be too many films about love.
However, this one is special for any number of reasons that have nothing to do with love. It is film about the arts. It is a film about the beauty in the world. It is a film about destiny and reality. It is a film about hope and struggle. And once again, it is a film about Love.
I have seen a lot of films this year. I have seen more than a few “great” films. But very few come close to the magic of “La La Land.” And is this not what we want sometimes at the cinema? Magic? Magic and love. Two powerful elements in the midst of a great artistic achievement.