The Movie Musical Makes A Comeback!

This past weekend I had the pleasure of going to see LA LA LAND. I did my very best to not spoil anything for myself. I did not watch the trailer, read any reviews or unlock any secrets about the plot. I like going into a movie or theatrical performance knowing nothing. This way I haven’t already formed an opinion and can let the work speak for itself. In this case I was left speechless. I am biased towards musicals to a degree and love the old fashion movie-musical that reached it’s peak in the 50s and 60s. Nonetheless, this movie is a sign that the art of great cinematography, acting, and music composition to produce a truly unique type of motion picture is out there. There are parts which I may not have enjoyed but for this article, I am sticking to what sold it for me. I think that over all this musical hits some very key points on life, relationships, as well as the performance industry in general. If you have not seen it yet and do not wish to spoil anything that my opinions may say, then stop reading here.

1. The music!

I could go on forever with this one because what makes a musical good? You know the answer. Justin Hurwitz did an incredible job here. The music is catchy and lively the whole way through. It supports the story and also supports the cinematography. It also fits the characters quite well. While many people might not particularly care for their voices I like the naturalness of it. The music reflects that and gives a very open source feel to what we are seeing on screen. Movie musicals amplify source music to the top, that is music that we think to be coming from the characters environment on screen. The themes in this are as sweet as the characters. I am a sucker for singable piano love themes and I was not disappointed. I will be playing the main theme on my piano for many years to come.

2. The Directing!

The art of storytelling is an old one but one that is rooted in the nature of humanity itself. It is one that we all share and do so in our own way. The interesting thing about storytelling is sometimes you are there and other times you are not. Damien Chazelle’s previous movie, Whiplash didn’t really connect with me. In this movie I was there with the characters. I felt glued to the screen and could not take my eyes away, I was connected to the characters’ emotions and actions. It all felt close and real. A lot of films play it safe and sometimes get rid of creative expression in order to do so. LA LA LAND does not do this. It is wide open, which is important. Some of the most memorable films over the years may not have the most complicated stories but they take risks in direction and narrative voice: that’s why they stick in your head. Even if you don’t like the plot to this movie, I would argue you could still enjoy how it was delivered.

3. The Cinematography!

The more I work on my own photography and study films in school, the more I have started noticing techniques and practices that set films apart. Cinematography is right up there with all the great ways to express art. It is something that is crafted and carefully worked on. Coupled with the music and direction, the look and shots inside this film are what make it. There are many scenes where the camera is telling the audience more than what the characters are saying or doing. The use of special effects both in lighting and in lense/shot work is phenomenal. I was surprised by how smooth many of the continuous shots worked. An audience that isn’t aware of how this works won’t notice, but the effect is you can’t take your eyes off screen. Linus Sandgren working with Chazelle is something that I think we need to see more of. There are scenes in here that are completely unique as well as many that tip their hat to that golden age of musicals in the 50s and 60s.

4. The Dancing!

There is a little bit of everything in here. If this were to be put on Broadway, there would probably be more dancing, but I like the variety used here. There are great moments in here where I feel that the dancing does not seem faked or super choreographed. I know that all musicals have strict choreography but the characters deliver it in a way that comes off as nonchalant. Spoiler alert…There is a tap number in here! Honestly, tap dancing needs a comeback. It is something I have noticed less and less people practicing over the years. While Ryan and Emma are no Gene Kelly and Debbie Reynolds, they do just fine. I also enjoy the large group numbers with the swing and full cast dancing. Fun fact, that intro scene on the cars and freeway was real. Those people were really dancing on cars on a freeway in LA. Those to me are what create the musical world that people love; so that it isn’t strange to just see the main characters breaking out in dance or song.