LA LA LAND—–“Dancing in the Streets” takes on a fresh new spin when a mélange of groove moves blend 100 participants into a bouncing bond atop a mile’s worth of clogged L.A. freeway in the delightful blast of sun-dappled energy that launches this 2016 favorite. The zest continues, with witty barbs gradually breaking down defenses into affecting departures into the bittersweet real-world. For 128 minutes it hits on key, to the heart and out of the park with critics and audiences, both camps in need of some release from a year of downer films that reflected a dismal social outlook. If you’re headed to hell, you might as well sing & dance on the way.
“It’s dying on the vine. And the world says ‘Let it die. It had its time.’ Well, not on my watch.”
Written & directed by Damien Chazelle with obvious affection for its setting and the musical genre, a sure eye for capturing visuals and a deft hand for guiding his actors to deliver a win. Luckily, he cast as his leads two of the most appealing people around, Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, playing struggling artists (actress and musician), doggedly flailing in the vast swirl of Los Angeles talent pool, a vortex of allure that flushes most of its cast of zillions down the drain like so much debris. But—what if–-you can just hold on…and… make it?
The pursuit of fame & glory in merciless show biz, the piping dream to follow your artistic gifts to fulfillment against a stacked deck, and the hope that fate allows you needle & keyhole finding the right person to share it with have all been done before, so there’s nothing new in the basic set-up. But Chazelle reinvigorates a moribund form (musicals) with the eye candy patina of the classic 50s Technicolor escapes from MGM, a perfectly mixed cocktail of spunk, sparkle and heart from Stone that recall the young Debbie Reynolds and some brand new songs you can actually listen to without cringing.*
“They worship everything and they value nothing.”
In just the right amounts, there’s humor, sweetness and pain (the splendidly written and performed dinner-argument scene is too close to home): it all works. Wildly praised, which of course generated a measure of “what’s the big deal?” kickback with the second wave of audiences, and come awards time, the drums of p.c. began pounding insistently vis a vis the ‘underdog’ Moonlight. One persons escapism is another’s relevance: for those famished for a little grace from a ceaseless cinematic diet of blockbusting mayhem, coarse infantilism and guilt-tripping social agenda tracts, this ode to the value of beauty and the dignity of spirit is as nourishing as a day at the beach.
Deserved Oscar-winners for Best Actress (Stone), Director, Cinematography, Music Score, Song (“City of Stars”) and Production Design. Justifiably nominated for Best Picture, Actor (Gosling), Screenplay, Film Editing, Costume Design, Song (“The Fools Who Dream”), Sound Editing and Sound Mixing. The $30,000,000 tab evaporated like good champagne with a worldwide take of $440,000,000.
Mandy Moore arranged the happy choreography (that opener, “Another Day of Sun”, was shot ten stories high on the 105-110 interchange when it was one hundred and nine degrees). Justin Hurwitz did the svelte score, the great lyrics done by Pasek & Paul. Linus Sandgren was the sleek camera wizard, and the stellar production design gift comes through David Wasco & his wife Sandy Reynolds-Wasco. With John Legend, Rosemarie DeWitt, Finn Witrock, Jessica Rothe, Sonoya Mizuno, J.K. Simmons and Callie Hernandez.
* Try to recall, let alone hum or, God forbid, sing something from Chicago, Dreamgirls, Nine, Into The Woods……Musicals, such few there have been in recent years, have basically Sucked since topping out in the 1960s. Like another old-time genre, the western, modern film-makers rarely get it right when trying to bring back the excitement. Read or hear comments that this was “sad for a musical” and it reveals that astounding discovery was summoned from a prejudiced jurist unaware of Carousel, South Pacific, West Side Story, Fiddler On The Roof or Cabaret. After an eon of that ghastly Andrew Lloyd Webber drool or one-good-tune-in-two-hours of cartoon animal Disney dross, La La Land is like getting a sno-cone on a hot day. From a pretty girl. Who smiles.