First off, I liked La La Land. It wasn’t among my favorites of 2016, but it’s entertaining, sweet, and actually really funny. Ryan Gosling has a good knack for dry, tough guy one-liners.
As many, many people have pointed out, La La Land is an ode to classic Hollywood and musicals. I think that this homage comes with the good and the bad. There’s an adorable meet-cute during a screening of Rebel Without a Cause and a heartbreaking crosscut (that’s also quite funny at times) during Emma Stone’s Mia’s one-woman show. There’s plenty of imaginative approaches to the world of the musical (overlays, miniatures on a globe, silhouetted fantasies), while the film simultaneously adheres to the myth of spontaneity and utopia. Because Mia and Gosling’s Sebastian sing and dance they often achieve things. It’s at once back-stage musical and out-in-the open, integrated musical. It kind of reminds me of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes that way (but only that way).
The bad might be the good for some people. There’s plenty of excess and spectacle in La La Land. And, while there is an attempt to put Mia and Sebastian on an even playing field, the narrative slips back into well-worn (not exactly of the past) Hollywood gender tropes (she cries at a table, passively, to get him to pursue his dream; he shows up in his cool car, knight in shining armor style, actively, to get her to pursue hers).
There’s an overlong fantasy sequence at the end that could use some trimming, but that notwithstanding, the editing in this film is fantastic. I’m really, really curious to know how much of Mia’s one-woman show editor Tom Cross cut out. This sequence, mentioned earlier, is so great in part because of how little is shown. Without giving too much away, it’s a critical moment in Mia’s arc. She’s poured a lot into the production. I think that a lot of editors would want to hold longer on the before and after the show, and would certainly give more of the show itself, not really to see the content of it (which is immaterial) but to extend the suspense and crosscut, and to push for further empathy with Mia’s plight.
Cross and Damien Chazelle do the opposite to tremendous effect. It’s one of the strongest sequences in the film, in part because of how little is shown, and because what is shown is so particularly selected as to portray a huge range of emotions in a very little bit of time.
As a completely random bit of minute curiosity: there’s a very short scene where Mia and Sebastian exit a jazz club together for the first time. Chazelle and Cross cut to an extreme wide, and both go in opposite directions, he to the left, she to the right. The point of the shot: they both, unbeknownst to the other, stop and look back over their shoulder.
I’d love to know what the direction was here. Were the actors given marks to look? Off-screen verbal cues? Was it totally spontaneous?
This is partially just nerdy inquisitiveness, but for such a simple, one-off moment it also felt really true and fresh.