“City of stars Are you shining just for me?”

Some thoughts on La La Land

I wasn’t going to write a post about La La Land. but after talking about it to an increasing number of friends who’ve now seen it, and nearly all been slightly disappointed/didn’t really like it, I feel compelled to get some thoughts on the page…

because I loved it!

I didn’t love it unreservedly, but I came out with a happy tear in my eye and lots to think about. I’ll try not to be too spoilery below…

I think the reason why many friends didn’t enjoy it in the same way I did was a matter of expectations.

Expectation 1: It’s been billed as a Hollywood musical, but apart from the amazing opening number on the flyover and a couple of others, like the girls getting ready to go out, it wasn’t a traditional Hollywood musical. We’re too used to Disney song and dance extravaganzas.

Expectation 2: Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling are not Fred and Ginger. They can dance, but they’re not perfect, Gosling learned tap for the film. Similarly with their singing – it’s not bad at all, but they’re not primarily singers (although Stone has been in Cabaret on Broadway). I felt the two leads were so much more natural that way which I really liked – they really felt like two young people looking for love and success, not characters in a musical.

Expectation 3: The music and especially the main song City of Stars which flows through the film is often dreamy or starts conversationally. It’s become a nice earworm for me. But did you notice that there was no other background music unless it was being played, or on the radio in the film. There were moments of silence all through the film – which was very disconcerting to everyone who’d bought popcorn!

Expectation 4: Was it different enough to be worth all the hype and Oscar-hoo-ha? Yes and no. It’s doesn’t have the sheer bravado of Moulin Rouge – but it’s not a juke-box musical, having already won Golden Globes for score and best song. It’s contemporary – which is certainly different for a musical film, but it tells a story we’ve all heard before in a familiar setting – which is also the point I felt.

Expectation 5: The Nostalgia. (Do also read Marina Sofia’s post on this aspect – here.) There are many, many references to other films – from screwball comedies to French classics to myriad other musicals and films – I loved spotting these – and will surely spot more when I see it again when the DVD comes out. (The use of the Griffith Observatory from Rebel Without a Cause being a great homage). As Marina’s post points out too, Sebastian (Gosling) is awash in nostalgia for the jazz of the 50s and 60s, but this doesn’t take jazz anywhere (I loved it though).

What was really good?

  • I enjoyed the chemistry between Stone and Gosling. I’m also in love with Ryan Gosling – he has a laid-back thing going on most of the time, but has intensity too in those eyes!
  • Gosling learned to play the piano from scratch and every time you see him playing it really is him. I can’t tell you how impressed I was with that! Sure, his technique is a little heavy and lacking in contrast, but to learn to play like that in three months is truly awesome. (Sherlock – are you listening? It’s just too obvious that you can’t play the violin!).
  • I liked John Legend in his supporting role – but we didn’t really get much of any other supporting characters. J.K. Simmons only has a cameo – a good one though, as does Sebastian’s sister. The film is totally focused on Sebastian and Mia.
  • The ending – about which I shall say nothing.

What was less successful?

  • Mia’s final audition – it needed a bit of movement or thought bubbles or something other than her just standing there sing/telling a story with her hands by her sides. It was strangely immobile.
  • I really disliked the photographer sketch. I’m guessing he was meant to be channelling David Bailey but it didn’t work for me, too comedic.

My, I’ve been rambling. I loved the overall subtleness of this film. I did feel it was different enough from all the other stuff out there at the moment to deserve most of the attention it’s been getting. I hope it does well at all the awards too.

Have you been to see it?

What did you think?

10 thoughts on ““City of stars Are you shining just for me?”

  1. Thanks for the mention and I’m glad you enjoyed it (and have set out your reasons for that so clearly). I liked it, but I didn’t love it. I shouldn’t have been expecting an indie film vibe for such a big production. But you are right: it was subtle by Hollywood standards and probably different enough to garner a few Oscars.

    • AnnaBookBel says:

      You hit the nail on the head – I was searching for ‘indie vibe’ but didn’t get there. Thanks for your post too – it spurred me on to write this one.

  2. AnnaBookBel says:

    I’ve not seen Once – but I imagine this is more glossy – esp as the leads are actors first and musicians/dancers second. It’s still very indie and natural by normal Hollywood standards though. If you go – do tell me what you think.

  3. OK. I saw the movie with friends and the general reaction after seeing it was (a) it was not what we expected and (b) we really enjoyed it.

    It had charm, it had a small town feel (I thought LA was like another character, and what a character!) it was low key, and as on old jazz fan from way back, I loved the way the film took on so many unfashionable notions and triumphed. I really liked the “what if” ending and the two main characters were superbly acted by Emma and Ryan.

    I thought your explanation about expectations was spot on…

  4. I haven’t seen it yet — reactions have been so mixed I’ll probably end up seeing it on a plane or something, some situation where I’m starved for choice and need something that won’t require too much of me intellectually. I’m so torn because I passionately hate jazz, yet I love Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling together. How to decide what to do!! :p

    • AnnaBookBel says:

      Give in to your inner jazz fiend. Go see. I’d love to know what you think. Honestly, the proper ‘jazz’ in it isn’t the big deal, there’s plenty of other musical styles that are a bit jazzy, but not really ‘jazz’ as you think of it.

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