January 11, 2017
This is one of the most acclaimed films for the awards season of 2016. It had been topping various critics lists for Best Picture, Director, Screenplay, Actor, Actress and even most of the technical awards, like Cinematography, Film Editing, Art Direction, Musical Score and even Original Song. During the Golden Globe Awards given out just two days ago, it won all seven of its seven nominations. I am very excited to watch this.
The trailers of this original musical film have been truly mesmerizing. There was one with a beautiful song sung by Ryan Gosling, and then one with a another beautiful song sung by Emma Stone. Still I had no idea what the story was going to be about, except that it was probably going to be a love story, and with the images you see, you get the feeling that this was going to be really good. Great trailers really tease like this -- they get you very interested in a film, without giving the whole story away.
We get a song and dance number about "Another Day in the Sun" right off the bat at the opening scene set in a traffic jam along an LA freeway. Mia Dolan is an aspiring actress and writer, who works as a barista in a cafe inside the Warner Brothers lot. Sebastian Wilder is all about jazz, being a down-an-out but talented jazz pianist and jazz memorabilia collector. After a rough start, the two eventually fall in love. Their relationship would face challenges as their respective careers each get opportunities to prosper.
The basic love story may be very simple, but the script of director Damien Chazelle was written so richly in both humor and emotion. As we have seen in his previous critically-acclaimed film "Whiplash," Chazelle's love for jazz music is still very much evident here. The jazzy musical score by Justin Hurwitz can very moody yet invigorating at the same time, and I am not exactly a fan of this musical genre. There was a throwback feel in the dancing scenes (by choreographer Mandy Moore) like it was one of those 1950s musicals, with tap-dancing in "A Lovely Night" and ballroom dancing in "Planetarium."
Emma Stone imbues her Mia with just the right amount of quirkiness and verve. She is able to make us feel for her with her face and eyes alone, from that first humorous audition scene, that scene in the concert of "The Messengers" band, right up to that final closeup of hers. Her singing voice is airy and light, just right for the songs given her to sing, especially her musical highlight "The Fools Who Dream" in her second audition scene.
Ryan Gosling charmingly brings the frustrated serious jazz artist Sebastian to life. He certainly looked really fantastic in those intense piano playing scenes. Co-star pianist John Legend (as Seb's friend Keith) remarked in an interview that he was jealous how Gosling became so good in piano in such a short time. Gosling carried himself off like Gene Kelly in those romantic dance scenes. He gets to sing the award-winning song "City of Stars" which can seriously give you last song syndrome. Multi-talented guy indeed.
Stone and Gosling had been together onscreen before in "Crazy Stupid Love" (2011) and "Gangster Squad" (2013), and the chemistry between them was simply electric this third time around. This whole film depended on their romantic chemistry to work and fortunately it did so wonderfully. It is difficult to imagine the original casting choices of Miles Teller and Emma Watson as Seb and Mia because of their younger ages and still unproven chemistry
At first, the title sounded so odd for me. But after watching, you'd realize that it not only refers to Los Angeles the setting, but also to the dreams of the characters detached from tough realities of show business. Chazelle did well to create a nostalgic classic feel even with a current story line, with a refreshing lack of sex and violence and the spectacular use of the CinemaScope lens system (which had its heyday in the 50s and 60s). The dramatic contrast of "what is" and "what could have been" was eloquently addressed in a sparkling montage with the smoldering backdrop of "Mia and Sebastian's Theme".
Admittedly there were some cliched situations in the story, but I thought these were forgivable in the overall view. The look and the music were really what made this film special. I really liked it a lot, and I am ready to watch it all over again. This is indeed a serious contender for the Best Picture Oscar 2016 and I am looking forward to its win. 9/10.