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After winning 7 Golden Globes in January, it was obvious that LA LA LAND was poised to garner at least a handful of Oscar nominations. By the time all of the Academy Award nominees were announced on January 24, the modern musical, set against the beautiful and bustling backdrop of Los Angeles, had garnered 14 nominations. This is a staggering number for any film, but it also puts the production alongside some pretty elite company. TITANIC and ALL ABOUT EVE are the only other two films in cinematic history that matched this incredible feat.
One of the most astounding aspects of this historical accomplishment is that the film itself is a musical. In an era when the genre has all but disappeared, it finds a way to pay homage to classics like SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN, while successfully winning over a new generation of movie-goers who have grown up with the likes of GLEE, AMERICAN IDOL and THE VOICE.
LA LA LAND opens with a brazen and upbeat musical number that unfolds on the Los Angeles freeway. A jaunty, spectacularly choreographed number that sets the tone for the entire feature, it gets your toes tapping from the opening notes. After the tune ends and the traffic jam begins, we see aspiring actress Mia (Emma Stone) and jazz pianist and enthusiast Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) inadvertently cross paths for the first time. It isn’t until Mia walks into a restaurant where Sebastian is playing piano, however, that their lives begin to change forever.
The courtship between Stone and Gosling is easily one of the best on-screen romances of the year, and the chemistry between to two lovable leads and whole-heartedly believable. Despite their propensity to break into song or execute complex dance moves at the spur of the moment, they remain entirely believable and real. I think this, more than anything else, is what makes LA LA LAND as enjoyable as it is. The duo, who shared the screen in the excellent romantic-comedy CRAZY STUPID LOVE, both carry the clout to serve as the marquee name on any production. Despite this fact, it is their unassuming cohesiveness that shines throughout the entire duration of the Oscar front-runner. Though it is fair to say that neither performer are as polished singers as we typically see in musicals, at the same time, this only added to its charm. The complexities of the lyrics (two of the songs, “Audition (The Fools Who Dream” and “City of Stars” are nominated for Best Original Song) paired with the sweetness of the characters and the vigor that the leads bring to their rolls, make up for any lacking vocal technicalities.
The relationship between Sebastian and Mia may serve as the crux of the story, but the city of Los Angeles is as essential to the tale as any other factor. Beautiful, joyful, and bursting with life and opportunity, it captures the essence of what all of drives starry-eyed artists to make their way to the West Coast for decades. LA LA LAND plays out like an ode to the City of Angels, and this is in large part to the ambitious script and direction of Damien Chazelle. Nominated for the Best Director and Best Original Screenplay (he already took home a Golden Globe in each of these categories) he looks to be the hands-on favorite to take home a few more awards come Oscar night. Although the story and vision were largely his, there are countless reasons why this film may have never come to fruition, and it took the dedication and tenacity of many to pull it off. There are multiple scenes of stunning originality, while many others harken back to a golden age when musicals were the toast of the town. And, although that seemed like a bygone era, LA LA LAND may serves as the very resurgence the genre has been yearning for.
A special thanks goes to Regal Cinemas at Destiny USA for allowing me to attend this month’s film.