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A Short Trip to La La Land

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Boy meets girl, stuck in a traffic jam, and honks at her. Girl gives boy the finger. Boy drives on. Boy meets girl again, in a bar, and brushes past. Girl thinks boy is a jerk. Boy meets girl again, at a party, and something clicks. Boy loves girl, at last. But what if girl and boy want different things from love? And why make such a song and dance about it? The boy is Sebastian played by Ryan Gosling, the girl is Mia played by Emma Stone, and their story is told in “La La Land,” a new musical, written and directed by Damien Chazelle.

La La Land was an original creation, with music by Justin Hurwitz and lyrics, for five of the six big numbers, by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul. To call the film original, however, is to raise a bunch of questions, since part of its purpose is to summon up memories of things in the past. It is rare, nowadays, to see a handsome man break into song on screen and even rarer to see a man like Ryan Gosling who has no musical background, what so ever, break into song as if it is something that is comfortable for him. Seeing Ryan Gosling dance and break out into song was a very uncomfortable experience

This spectacle gets a lot done. First, it serves notice that song is a mean of expression. Get used to it, guys. Second, we are introduced to Mia and Sebastian. Third, the sequence revives the old-fashioned view of L.A. as a breeding ground of hope.

Mia spends her time going to auditions, toiling in a café, and writing a play of her own. Pausing outside a bar, she hears the sound of a piano, and enters.

Until now, the film has been all about her, but Chazelle now switches the view and follows Sebastian. He is a musician, whose proudest boast is that he owns a piano stool once sat on by Hoagy Carmichael, and whose dearest wish is to open a jazz joint.

 

Sebastian meets Mia inside of a bar and they start to talk. Sebastian then decided to invite Mia to a screening of “Rebel Without a Cause,” at the Rialto, in South Pasadena. She’s late, but marches in and stands onstage, overtaken in the projector’s beam, gazing outward in search of her date. It’s a blissful image of love and passion. After the movie, Mia and Sebastian dance beside a bench, high above the city.

By contrast, when Gosling and Stone dance around in the dusk, and click their tap shoes for a quick second, they do so with eagerness and charm. In the second half of the movie after all of the mushy gushy stuff, the tale runs a little out of course and  it’s a kind of miracle that “La La Land” even exists. My advice would be to ignore the backward-glancing. Catch the film on the largest screen you can find, with a sound system to match, even if that means journeying all day.

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