A Look at Lala Land
by Noah Beaver
Something that surprises me nowadays is that musicals are hated by many. Which is surprising since (movie) musicals have been an American tradition since 1927. But nowadays, I keep hearing more people say that they ‘hate musicals’. Now, I have no problem with differences in taste; I am aware that not everyone will like the exact things I do. It’s people hating on genres that I can’t stand. It’s too broad to hate a genre, and there are different musicals for different tastes. This one, La La Land, is a romantic musical.
This movie starts with a grand musical number taking place on a L.A. freeway. There are people singing and dancing on their cars while stuck in traffic. It’s not only a great song, or great choreography, but it has amazing camera work. The whole scene is about 3 minutes, and it’s all taken in one shot. We see people singing, dancing, and the camera keeps moving to different locations while still rolling. It was definitely the most impressive shot of the film; the people making it not only had to spend hours for this beautiful shot, but they had to make sure the sun was at the right spot because they were shooting on location on an L.A. freeway. The musical number itself is amazing, but it doesn’t serve much purpose, it does not reveal any emotions or plot, but it did do one thing: it prepared me. After going for years without musicals it prepared me for all the singing and dancing by showing it. And it was a beautiful song; I was humming it while walking out of the theater.
The story focuses on a man and woman: Mia and Sebastian. Mia is a barista at a Starbucks in the Warner Bros studio lot in Hollywood. She goes to movie auditions in her free time because she wants to be a star. Sebastian is a Jazz pianist who’s stuck with playing simple piano jingles for cash; but his dream is to open his own jazz club, even though they’re rare nowadays. Both of them meet each other, and although they both have different tastes for entertainment: they fall in love.
With my description and a glance at the movie poster you may be thinking: although this is a musical, this is no more than a generic love movie between 2 generic straight white folks, the absolute scum of the Earth. Well, this may be the kind of romance we’re all used to, but this movie does it’s best at giving them both a connection, and not just with a song; we see them communicating and spending time together. We’re not told we want them to be together, we actually want them to be.
The music is beautiful, and not one song is out of place (with the exception of the first act). I re-listened to every single song in the movie at home.
Are there cons? Unfortunately yes, this is one that movie companies have made so many times before: actors aren’t singers. Musical movies before have made this same mistake, having big-name celebrities play lead singing roles, even though they’ve had no previous practice. This is most apparent when Mia is singing with her roommates. We see the other girls breaking out into sprints and twirls, singing about love in falsetto, and at the end, we see Mia strutting, barely able to squeak out the notes. She and Sebastian aren’t necessarily bad, I’d call them…average. They get good stage direction, they can sing just about good enough, and luckily they don’t get too many songs. In fact, that makes them seem more modest. But still: actual singers would still definitely make much better main characters and, with the hit this movie has become, maybe other movie musicals will get that treatment. But, I wouldn’t hold my breath for Hollywood.
But compared to the rest of the movie, it’s just one sour note in the orchestra. The rest is top notch with zany music, fantastic camera work, and an ending you won’t expect. I wouldn’t say this movie is built up to what it has been built it up to be by some other critics, but I still had a wonderful experience watching it. Whether you’re a fan of musicals or just a casual one, I say give this movie a watch.
Article written by Noah Beaver, posted on January 31st, 2016.