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szdaily -> Movies
La La Land
    2017-February-17  08:53    Shenzhen Daily

    STARRY-EYED and saturated with pure romance, “La La Land” revisits many of the narrative themes of Damien Chazelle’s debut “Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench” for a jazz-infused, jewel-colored musical infectiously scored by Justin Hurwitz. Suffused with love — for Los Angeles, the films of MGM’s golden age and Jacques Demy, and its intensely appealing star-crossed leads Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling — Chazelle’s dream-like follow-up to “Whiplash” is as la-la-light as its title, tap-dancing its way into the hearts of incurable romantics everywhere.

    The film’s energetic ambition can’t entirely paper over a storytelling softness at its core, though Linus Sandren’s driving camera works hard to distract. If “Whiplash” — also scored by Hurtwitz, like Guy and Madeline — cracked with tension, “La La Land” is its polar opposite. There is so much love and lightness here Chazelle’s film could — and does — take to the air.

    Offering the most simple of boy-meets-girl plots, Chazelle relies heavily on his leads and Stone and Gosling to work their movie-star charisma to a punishing level. As the modern yet timeless lovers Mia and Sebastian they sing, affectingly, they dance, well enough — they’re immediate romantic icons, faces full of love and longing, torn between life and their art. Opening the Venice Film Festival before moving on to Toronto and the kind of Christmas release in the United States that marketing dreams are made of, “La La Land” would like to dance down the path to the Oscars first taken by “The Artist.”

    “La La Land” is classic escapism from the dream factory, shot on the Warner Brothers lot in an amorphic Cinemascope in 35 mil (in an unusual 2.52:1 ratio). A long-gestating project for Chazelle, it riffs, like “Guy and Madeleine” — on two lovers whose dreams may not be compatible with their art. She’s an actress; he’s a jazz pianist (John Legend, a co-producer, plays a band leader who buckles up the score).

    As a drama, this is less nourishing than the heritage it pays tribute to. But for Chazelle, the story is just a slight rib around which he builds a modern rhapsody. With its love for Los Angeles, movies, actors, music, and Paris, it feels like the giant adoring love child of everything from “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg” to “Round Midnight” to “An American in Paris,” “Singing in the Rain,” to even “The Cotton Club” or, perhaps, “Young Man With a Horn.” Baz Luhrmann’s “Moulin Rouge” is in there too, all sparkly and blue.

    Chazelle sets out his stall — and the film’s strong color choices — with an exhilarating opening sequence set on a gridlocked L.A. freeway. Starting with the sounds of car radios switching their stations until their inhabitants emerge to break out in the full, this is fluid, bravura filmmaking, a joy to watch.

    The sequence is built around Sebastian (Gosling) and Mia (Stone), motorists who have a hostile encounter before she goes to her job in a café on the Warner Brothers lot, a depressing audition, and then home to her apartment, where a giant picture of Ingrid Bergman watches over her bed. Mia and her flatmates then swing into an irresistible rendition of “Someone in the Crowd,” complete with a dizzying Hollywood pool sequence.

    “La La Land” isn’t without its issues. The track back from this showstopper to Sebastian’s unfulfilled life in an unfurnished apartment opposite a jazz club is a hard cut, and the film’s momentum stalls until the couple sees each other again in J.K. Simmons’ restaurant where Sebastian is thumping out Christmas carols. A fun piece at a party where Sebastian plays “I Ran” picks up the pace again, and soon they’re dancing in the moonlight, driving up to the Griffith Observatory, and things — literally — take off.

    The film is also deliberately over-aestheticized: from silhouettes to chiaroscuro, dissolves, backlighting, spotlighting, intense saturations, an intensely popping color palette from Mia’s primary-colored dresses on down. While “Park Bench” — a thesis film — was shot in black and white, “Whiplash” showed some strong choices in a limited palette, but this is almost color-plus.

    “La La Land” is preoccupied with wink-wink cinematic references where it could spend a little more time with supporting cast, for example, who barely register — even John Legend as Sebastian’s band leader fails to make a mark. Stone and Ryan Gosling are perfectly cast and committed, though, both delivering the type of tentative, wistful yearning that suits performances from actors who are not professional dancers or musicians.

    The movie is now being screened in Shenzhen.

    (SD-Agencies)

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