Cinema: Ryan Gosling channels Old Hollywood in La La Land
The Oscar season appears to be a three horse race this year. After talking about Manchester by the Sea and Moonlight, it’s time to discuss the third horse in the race, La La Land, which is rightfully poised to be the big winner - after a record breaking night at the Golden Globes, it's looking more and more like a force to be reckoned with when the Oscars finally roll around. This is in no small part thanks to Ryan Gosling, who shows off his impressive dancing skills in this movie, and is also poised to relaunch the Blade Runner series later this year this year. For these stories, read on:
Film release: La La Land: 2016 was a great year for film, but nothing stood out as the best. Aside from a certain reckless squad of super villains, the blockbusters this year were exciting and explosive, and the dramas were consistently gripping. Still, until a few days ago I couldn’t look back at the year and point to a single film as the greatest; they were all the same satisfying level of good. But then I saw La La Land.
Now, Damien Chazelle’s breathtaking painting of a film is far from perfect. There are some hammed up moments near the beginning, and at times the plot could be just a little too perfect, with too many tiny coincidences happening in the sprawling metropolis of Los Angeles. But these flaws are stomped away with the ferocity of an entire highway’s worth of dancers, backed up yet again on a crowded City of Angels road, as they exit their vehicles and break out in dance and sing about yet another sunny day in LA, the "technicolor world made out of music and machine." Yes, it can be cheesy. And yes, it can be closer to dream than reality. But this film is for those who dream.
Ryan Gosling plays Sebastian Wilder, a piano player working gig to gig so he can pursue his passion for jazz music. We first see him in a convertible on that same highway, rewinding a song with an old-school music player over and over again. The camera pans over to Emma Stone’s Mia Dolan, talking loudly on her iPhone as she rehearses lines for an upcoming audition. The two represent the dichotomy between old and new; Sebastian dreams of opening up his own jazz club to preserve the genre’s gradual extinction, while Mia wants to become a recognizable face on every screen.
In fact, the entire film toys with the concept of old verses new. Chazelle’s screenplay explores characters in a very modern Los Angeles, though frequently detours into breathtaking sequences that serve as an homage to old Hollywood filmmaking. In one sequence, Mia and Sebastian attend the Griffith Observatory after their paths collide numerous times. The two discover gravity no longer affects them in this sequence, and they slow dance with celestial galaxies as the backdrop. You know, live everyone does. The visuals are gorgeous, and Linus Sandgren’s cinematography utilizes classic techniques against a modern backdrop. The film could be paused at any second, and that specific shot’s composition, lighting and setting would look as if it were meant to be mounted on a museum wall.
The musical numbers aren’t revolutionary, but do give a stage for the surprising vocal chops from Stone, whose lilting voice is reminiscent of wind chimes blowing in the breeze. Gosling’s singing voice is less impressive, but he’s an excellent dancer. While the pair is a joy to watch, Gosling excels at a dance sequence that takes place in a random parking lot overlooking the luminous city. The film’s first half is front loaded with music, which is noticeably sparse in the second half. John Legend’s makes an effective appearance on his original song “Start a Fire,” which expertly fuses old school rock with modern electronic elements. Justin Hurwitz, who worked with Chazelle on his two previous films, performed the film’s stellar score, which immediately sticks out as one of the year’s most memorable.
The glue that connects these pieces together is Gosling and Stone. As their characters develop a romance and try to achieve their dreams, we can’t help but fall in love with them and this beautiful, unique world they live in. Gosling has come a long way from The Notebook; he’s a full acting force, and this role may be him at his prime. Stone continues to expand her skillset into serious roles, proving she can hold a tune in the process. The third time is the charm for this pair, who previously appeared in Crazy Stupid Love and Gangster Squad together.
The film’s excitement peaks with Stone’s stunning performance of “Audition (The Fools Who Dream),” which encapsulates the film’s main theme of dream verses reality, and old verses new. Though the world Chazelle created looks beautiful, not everything that happens in it is. That he was able to portray such beauty and conflict on the screen is a triumph that Gosling and Stone can also happily take credit for. The execution of his vision is absolutely remarkable. This one’s for the ones who dream.
Coming soon: Blade Runner 2049: Hey look, more Ryan Gosling. This time he’s taking up Harrison Ford’s iconic mantle in the Blade Runner series reboot. Set for release this fall, the film will be directed by Denis Villeneuve, rather than Ridley Scott, who was busy directing Alien: Convenant. Villeneuve’s tense, claustrophobic film style fits drama films perfectly. In the past few years alone he’s directed Prisoners, Sicario and Arrival, and that's an impressive transcript.
While Blade Runner is now considered a classic, it wasn’t critically loved when it first was released to theaters in 1982. 2049 has huge shoes to fill, and it will have to carefully balance respecting the original while updating to today’s filmmaking technology and audiences. Based solely on the fact Villeneuve is directing, I think the film is in good hands. With Arrival, he let science fiction and drama work off each other rather than have one dominate the other, which is exactly what a Blade Runner reboot needs. Plus, Ryan Gosling is there. I’d say it’s in good hands.