Sunday, 25 December 2016

Film Review: "La La Land" (2016).

"Here's to the fools who dream."
This tribute doesn't grace the screen more beautifully than La La Land. This romantic musical comedy-drama film written and directed by Damien Chazelle. The plot follows the story of Mia, an aspiring actress, and Sebastian, a dedicated jazz musician, who meet and fall in love in LA, when they struggle to make ends meet while pursuing their dreams in a city known for destroying hopes and breaking hearts. With modern day Los Angeles as the backdrop, this musical about everyday life explores what is more important: a once-in-a-lifetime love or the spotlight.

The screenplay for La La Land was first written in 2010 during a period in the director's life when he struggled to get his Hollywood career off the ground. His idea of the film was "to take the old musical but ground it in real life where things don't always exactly work out" and to pay homage and salute people with an unrealistic state of mind who move to Los Angeles to chase their dreams. He first conceived the idea for the film when he was a student at Harvard University along with composer, Justin Hurwitz. After graduating, both Chazelle and Hurwitz moved to Los Angeles in 2010 and continued writing the script but made a few modifications, including altering the location from Boston to LA. The style and tone of the film was inspired by Jacques Demy's The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964) and The Young Girls of Rochefort (1967), especially the latter, which was far more dance and jazz oriented, as well as Hollywood musicals such as Singin' in the Rain (1952), Top Hat (1935), Swing Time (1936), The Band Wagon (1953) and even 8 1/2 (1963). However, due to being an original contemporary musical (which was considered an "extinct genre") with no familiar songs to build off a pre-existing fan base, with an unknown crew and no bankable names, Chazelle was unable to obtain studio funding. However, Chazelle persevered and ultimately found funding with producers Fred Berger and Jordan Horowitz. The script then landed at Focus Features, but the studio demanded numerous alterations to the script. Unwilling to make such huge sacrifices to the film's distinctive and pivotal elements, Chazelle scrapped the project and moved on. With the critical and commercial success of Whiplash (2014), as well as sweeping up five Oscar nominations at the 87th Academy Awards, La La Land began to attract attention from studios, and Chazelle resumed his efforts to bring the film to the big screen. Finally, Summit Entertainment and Black Label Media agreed to invest $30 million in the film and distribute it. The project was originally set to star Miles Teller and Emma Watson. However Teller was dropped due to the failure of Fantastic Four (2015) and Watson dropped out to pursue Beauty and the Beast (2017). They were both replaced with Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone. The rest of the cast including J. K. Simmons, Sonoya Mizuno, Finn Wittrock, Rosemarie DeWitt and John Legend, were announced between July and August 2015.

Principal photography on the film officially began in August 2015, and concluded in mid-September 2015. Filming took over eight weeks and was shot in more than 60 locations throughout LA, that included downtown trolley, houses in the Hollywood Hills, Angels Flight, Colorado Street Bridge, South Pasadena, Grand Central Market and Watts Tower. Chazelle wanted Los Angeles to be the primary setting for his film, commenting that "there is something very poetic about the city I think, about a city that is built by people with these unrealistic dreams and people who kind of just put it all on the line for that." The Film is presented in Cinemascope using the 2.55:1 aspect ratio, which was the aspect of the first CinemaScope features that only had a 4-track magnetic soundtrack. This later changed to 2.35:1 and 2.39:1 when an optical backup track was added. When projected on a screen in 2.39:1 ratio this feature has small black bars on top and bottom. Because Chazelle wanted to shoot the scene in the tradition of the old musicals without cuts or editing, Gosling, Stone and the cast had to learn to sing, play and dance themselves. Gosling, in particular, learned how to play the piano himself. By the time filming had begun, Gosling was able to play all of the piano sequences seen in the film without the use of a hand double or CGI. Gosling himself had no prior piano training. Chazelle then spent nearly a year with Hurwitz and editor Tom Cross on getting the tone and style just right. The film's score was recorded in the same studio where Singin' In The RainThe Wizard of Oz, and many other MGM musicals were scored.

The film stars Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone and John Legend. The cast gave spectacular and stellar performances and musical numbers. Both Gosling and Stone pulled off show-stopping numbers that silenced my first initial skepticism. Both Gosling and Stone are delights, in their sheer energy and passion of being able to sing, dance and play until they drop. It's astounding. Though Legend brought the best musical number that brought a new vibe to Jazz.

La La Land is another mighty fine achievement from Damien Chazelle whose previous film Whiplash was also an astounding piece of work. A fancy package of musical entertainment with wide appeal and bright grossing prospects. For its dramatic passion and sheer energy, the film, along with Arrival, can not be topped by any other film this year. It's one of the shining glories of modern American cinema. It's tough to fight the consensus that this is one of the best films of the year, but what's often lost in the praise is that this also qualifies as a great tribute to bold dreamers who dare to defy the odds in order to chase their dreams. If you've never seen it and don't, you're bonkers. It's mandatory viewing for even the casual moviegoer.

Simon says La La Land receives:

Also, see my review for Whiplash.

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