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La La Land ~ A Capsule Movie Review

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La La Land ~ A Capsule Movie Review by Allen Kopp

I was prepared to hate La La Land but, once we got past the cutesy singing-and-dancing traffic jam that opens the movie, I didn’t hate it. I can’t say it’s really my favorite kind of movie, but it’s passable entertainment for a late-December afternoon at the local art film theatre. It’s a bittersweet romance and a musical fantasy rolled up together. Mia (Emma Stone) and Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) both have a dream: she wants to be an actress and he wants to be a jazz pianist and own his own jazz club. Their lack of success, however, is dazzling. She came to Los Angeles from a small town in Nebraska and has been struggling for six years to gain a foothold in the acting profession, working at a lousy job in a Hollywood coffee shop to keep herself going. He gets fired from his job playing background music in a dimly lighted restaurant because he plays real jazz on the piano instead of “Jingle Bells” and “Deck the Halls.”

Mia and Sebastian have several chance encounters, the first one being an ugly traffic confrontation. She happens to hear him play in the restaurant where he works on the night he gets fired, and when she tries to congratulate him on his playing, he won’t even listen to what she has to say. Eventually they get together, though, and, in typical movie fashion, they “fall in love.”

Sebastian has another chance encounter (this movie is full of them) with an old musician acquaintance who offers him a steady job in a musical combo. The only problem is that Sebastian is away from Mia most of the time and they begin to have problems arising from their separation. Mia, for her part, continues to struggle with soulless acting auditions. She writes a one-character play and hires a theatre to perform it in, but, at the play’s one performance, only a few people show up, and she doesn’t even make enough money to pay for the theatre. Disheartened and disillusioned, she retreats to her small-town home in Nebraska. Wait a minute, though! She gets the “call” after she’s gone that might be her big breakthrough. Although Sebastian and Mia are officially finished, he drives from Los Angeles to Nebraska to get her to deliver the good news to her and see that she makes it to the audition in time.

There are singing and dancing in La La Land, but not of the Fred Astaire variety (which I detest). Whenever Mia and Sebastian are alone together, in several scenes, they go into “fantasy singing-and-dancing mode.” One of these happens at dusk on a parking lot overlooking the bowl-like valley that is Los Angeles. The most notable scene of this kind, though, is at the famous planetarium (the Griffith Observatory) where James Dean and Natalie Wood took a memorable high school field trip, along with their class, in the classic 1955 movie Rebel Without a Cause. Mia and Sebastian are the only two people at the planetarium and, in their singing-and-dancing number together, defy gravity. For me, the most effective and innovative scene of the entire movie is at the end when Mia and Sebastian have their final chance encounter in a roomful of people and Sebastian plays “their song” while we are treated to a montage of soundless (except for the music) “what if” scenes. What if he hadn’t brushed her off the night he was fired? What if he hadn’t been offered a job that kept him mostly on the road? Will there be a sequel? No, a sequel would only spoil the bittersweet.

Copyright © 2016 by Allen Kopp

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