Review – A Match Made In Hollyweird (“La La Land”)

This is Hollywood, baby. The Dream Factory, Tinsel Town, La La Land, the place where your dreams come true. Not since Chicago has a visually striking, toe-tapping, and marvelous song ‘n’ dance movie come along, but it also changes gears in mid-picture to reveal a hauntingly real-life look at the price of fame and the pursuit of happiness.
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We start of with a sunny, warm winter California gridlock on the freeway and an extraordinary flash mob song  (“Another Day of Sun“) where we meet our two key players. An aspiring actress and part-time barista, Mia Dolan (Emma Stone) who also happens to work on the backlot of Warner Bros studio. Convenient, yes? She dreams of being an actress (like so many thousands like her) and goes on dozens of auditions. Is she good? Yes, but so are all the others like her. Thankfully, her two other roomies keep her spirits up with a little action (“Someone in the Crowd“) at a swanky Hollywood power party.
 
The other key ingredient in this mix is Sebastian Wilder (Ryan Gosling), a passionate and gifted piano player who lives, eats, and breathes jazz music. Obsessed with it, he desperately wants to open his own jazz club to preserve its sound. Practically broke, Sebastian takes degrading and menial jobs where he can, and meets Mia at the aforementioned party, where the two don’t exactly get along at first. But after a little song ‘n’ dance (“A Lovely Night“), an impromptu rendezvous at a jazz club, and a movie night, they begin to click. She tells him about her acting dreams; he speaks of the jazz life, and together they fall for each other. Then Sebastian gets a break with the help of old buddy, Keith (singer John Legend), who’s forming a new jazz-fusion-rock band. AND it pays!
 
Money vs integrity, which will Sebastian lean towards? Yeah, it’s money! Against his better wishes (and personal ethics), he joins Keith’s The Messengers and the band takes off like a shot. Meanwhile, Mia gets an idea for a one-women stage play called So Long, Boulder City that she’ll write, produce, and star in. The tempo changes, the colors are muted, and the harsh reality sets in with no more song ‘n’ dances, only the jaded aspirations of each dreamer that are tested to their limits; Sebastian is gone on the road and Mia is swamped with writing and rehearsals. As Sebastian’s music career climbs, Mia’s play falters and she loses sight of her dreams. As a big director calls her in for an important audition, Mia gives an impassioned speech to Sebastian about her dashed hopes of ever being an actress.
 
The third act is a curve ball that spins your typical Hollywood ending on its ear; a bittersweet conclusion that just goes to show you that, even in La La Land, you don’t always get what you hope for. Damien Chazelle, who wrote/directed the remarkable Whiplash, does the same here. Writing and playfully directing Gosling and Stone in a series of Gene Kelly and Rita Hayworth-ish dance numbers, this movie isn’t all what it seems. Both a homage to the ol’ 50’s Hollywood movie musicals and a romantic dramedy, La La Land is both. At first you get fooled by the primary colors and the wildly exuberant dance numbers, then you get drawn in by the characters and their lives, and finally you have your heart broken, as the conclusion takes you on a whirl-wind tour of what might have been.
 
Ya gotta hand it to Gosling and Stone who really pack a punch. Gosling who tears up the keyboard (yes, that’s really HIM playing!) is more than just “a handsome guy” here,  delivering a restrained and powerful performance. Stone, with those big, beautiful, and expressive eyes, can sing and dance as well as act up a storm. The ‘cell phone audition’ scene is amazing. And let’s talk about the music while were at it: damn good jazz along with some bouncy tunes as well as some poignant songs (“The Fools Who Dream” is quite stirring). Okay, so the initial front story isn’t anything new, but just stick around and you’ll be rewarded by everything else.
 
 
Singin’ In The Rain (1952)
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MGM’s pride and joy and THE most watched movie musical of all time, this amazing and hugely entertaining movie boasts the acting talents of some the very best triple-threats (dances/singers/actors) in Hollywood at that time. Although not a commercial hit at the time, it has gone down in cinematic history for its music, dancing, and just plain fun screenplay.

It’s early Hollywood with all the glitz and glamour that is La La Land and actor Don Lockwood (Gene Kelly) is a popular silent film star. He barely tolerates his vain, cunning, and shallow leading lady, Lina Lamont (hilarious Jean Hagen), even though their studio, Monumental Pictures, links them romantically to increase their popularity. Lina herself is convinced they’re in love, despite Don’s protests otherwise. At the premiere of their newest film, The Royal Rascal, Don escapes from his crazed fans and jumps into a passing car driven by budding actress, Kathy Selden (Debbie Reynolds at age 19!).

She drops him off, but not before sneering at his "undignified" accomplishments as a movie star (stage actors are way better, y'see). When Don goes to his boss' party, he sees Kathy pop out of a huge cake and start to sing! She gets pissed at Don's teasing and throws real cake at him, only to hit Lina right in the face, which gets Kathy fired. Naturally, Don is smitten with her and finds Kathy to reconcile.

Meanwhile, the unthinkable happens! Talking pictures! The head of the studio, R.F. Simpson (Millard Mitchell) decides he has no choice but to convert his new movie, The Dueling Cavalier, into a talkie. But, problems occur with Lina’s fingers-on-a-chalkboard grating voice and strong Bronx accent. The test screening is a disaster with the audience laughing hysterically. What to do? Studio pianist Cosmo Brown (Donald O’Conner) has an idea… a crazy idea.

They’ll turn the The Dueling Cavalier into a musical called, The Dancing Cavalier, and complete it with a modern musical number called Broadway Melody. Plus, they’ll also dub over Lina’s voice with Kathy’s! However, when Lina finds out, she is infuriated and threatens to sue R.F. unless he orders Kathy to continue working uncredited as Lina’s voice. R.F. reluctantly agrees to her demands, because of a specific clause in her contract. Bummer.

The premiere of The Dancing Cavalier is a huge hit and when the audience clamors for Lina to sing live, Don, Cosmo, and R.F. decide to turn the tables on her. While Lina fakes her singing, Don, Cosmo, and R.F. gleefully raise the curtain showing everyone that it’s Kathy who does the REAL singing. Lina flees and a distressed Kathy tries to run away as well, but Don proudly announces to the audience that she’s “the real star of the film”. Later, Kathy and Don kiss in front of a billboard for their new film, Singin’ in the Rain.

Wow! What a movie! The dancing is jaw-dropping, the music is amazing, and the cast is incredible. Betty Comden and Adolf Green wrote the frenetic screenplay with Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly collaborating as directors. There is SO much to say about this movie I could take up another 15 paragraphs, especially in light of the fact that we just lost the beautiful Ms. Reynolds only last week. Suffice to say, if you haven’t seen this movie, you should! Put this on your next Netflix and Chill rotation list and enjoy one of the very best movie musicals of all times.

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