December 21, 2016

Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling in La La Land

Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling in La La Land

Most important in La La Land‘s universe, Gosling and Stone look and act like movie stars. In my experience, opinions on whether romantic leads have chemistry together are extremely idiosyncratic, but I assume there will be less debate than usual over these two. Ironically, the leads appear so well suited for each other that the drama of the plot”€”Will they stay together?”€”seems contrived. Of course they should.

Stone’s character moved to Los Angeles from Nevada when she was 20 and has spent six years fruitlessly auditioning for roles. The reality, though, of how much competition there is to be a star these days is even more daunting: In the present system, age 20 might be far too late.

Stone herself dropped out of her private high school in Arizona when she was 15 to move to L.A. to audition. She got her first romantic-comedy lead in Superbad a couple of years later. Yet Stone was a laggard compared with Gosling, who was on the Disney Channel’s Mickey Mouse Club with Keri Russell, Christina Aguilera, Britney Spears, and Justin Timberlake when he was 12.

Los Angeles is coming back into style after a long stretch as America’s most hated city. L.A. looks great in La La Land, with most of the scenes filmed around sunset in the Griffith Park area near downtown. When I was young, all the energy was moving west toward the beach, but now, with the smog gone, all the young people want to live inland in the old part of town.

Demographically, Chazelle’s fantasy Los Angeles is much like Woody Allen’s New York or Paris: no Mexicans, Koreans, Persians, or Russians, just good-looking white Americans and dignified old black jazz musicians. To a semi-French artist like Chazelle, America will always be culturally white and black, and the post-1965 newcomers don”€™t much matter.

Chazelle is obsessed with old-time street lamps, the kind that shine light up instead of down like the more efficient but forgettable post-WWII streetlights.

I imagine La La Land‘s look was inspired by the most popular work of public art in 21st-century Los Angeles, Chris Burden’s Urban Light grid of 202 refurbished antique street lamps at the County Museum of Art on Wilshire Boulevard. This is conspicuously absent from La La Land‘s run-through of the most amorous spots in L.A.

Urban Light is absurdly romantic, perhaps because it appeals both to the elderly and to toddlers. The idea is that mating is for the long run, that that’s where generations come from.

All this isn”€™t to say that La La Land wouldn”€™t be a deserving Best Picture winner, just that nobody, including me, is letting the film sneak up on audiences. La La Land has wonderful cinematography, excellent star turns, fine songs, and decent dancing, but it’s not very funny, so it’s not as moment-to-moment delightful as, say, Singin”€™ in the Rain.

Of course, when your Singin”€™ in the Rain glass is 20 percent empty and 80 percent full, you”€™re doing okay…as long as expectations aren”€™t too extravagant.


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