By Cynthia Citron
They just don’t make 1940s musicals anymore. You know, the kind where all the kids get together after school in their local drugstore-hangout to slurp their chocolate ice cream sodas (except if the film is in technicolor the sodas will be strawberry) and suddenly all of them will start to sing in unison and twirl around in a beautifully choreographed number and then the lead couple will jump up on the countertop and miraculously tap dance the length of it without knocking over a single soda!
For some moviegoers that sort of scene brings with it a wave of nostalgia—a blast from the past. For younger people it’s an introduction to a genre with no murders, no car chases, and no exploding houses. How boring is that!
Well, it’s not boring at all. It’s a new movie called “LaLa Land,” which is actually a tribute to Hollywood in its glory days. The girl, Emma Stone, spends her life going to acting auditions (which would be funny if they weren’t so brutal) and the guy, the unbelievably charismatic Ryan Gosling, is a jazz pianist working in a club where the owner insists that he play “Jingle Bells” instead of his own jazz compositions.
They meet cute. They are stuck in their cars on the freeway in a line that appears to stretch halfway to San Francisco. And in a number that rivals those staged in an after-school hangout, everyone vacates their cars and sings and dances and bounces and somersaults off the hoods and roofs of the cars. It’s a helluva feel-good opening.
But then, when the line begins to move and she is slow getting started, he gives her a tremendous honk of his horn and races to pass her. And as he goes by she gives him the finger.
Because Hollywood is such a small place for those artists who are forever trying to meet the “right” people, they keep bumping into each other. She is feisty; he is snarky, and so they fall in love. But here their story gets very sophisticated—and very modern. They start living together. You’d never find Doris Day and Rock Hudson doing that!
Eventually she gives up auditioning and writes a play. She performs it (it’s a one-woman play) in a small theater and about six people show up. He, on the other hand, joins a jazz band that becomes very successful (the music they play in the film is beyond fabulous), and he finds himself on tour and away from her for long months at a time. Meanwhile, somebody who has seen, or read, or heard about her play wants her to star in a movie to be shot in Paris. She will be away for seven months. How it all turns out will surprise you.
“LaLa Land” is a beautiful love story. Especially early on, as they’re falling in love. They dance together like Ginger and Fred (who knew Ryan Gosling could tap dance?) and there’s even a moment when, in total rapture, he wraps himself around a lamppost a la Gene Kelly.
The two stars have wonderful chemistry together and, in my opinion, Gosling is definitely this year’s Sexiest Man Alive (although there’s a rumor that he turned that suggestion from People magazine down)… Moreover, the film should be especially pleasant for Angelenos because it was shot here and as the lovers travel all over the city it’s fun to try to guess where they are. There’re the towers in Watts, the Angels Flight cable cars, various streets in Beverly Hills, and more, all making cameo appearances.
If you stay in your seats until after they run the screen credits, you’ll find a wonderful interview with Damien Chazelle, the writer and director of “LaLa Land,” talking about the making of the film.
And even if, after watching for a while, you still think 1940 musicals are boring, or corny, you can sit there with your eyes closed and enjoy all the gorgeous music, classical as well as jazz. (Gosling is actually an accomplished musician who plays both.) But if you do close your eyes you’ll miss out on watching the gorgeous Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, and that would certainly be a tragedy!
But not to worry. You can catch both of them again at the Golden Globes. “LaLa Land” is nominated for seven.