At last, a new musical! Those
of us with some musical interest are applauding the courage it took
for Hollywood to make and produce this, because musicals are not
nearly as popular now as they were in previous generations, and
because they rarely make money, and because they (almost) never win
any Oscars. So they have
to be offered by people who just plain love the medium of the musical.
And if you are one of those folks, then you'll enjoy this
Of course, it's not perfect.
Writer and Director Damien Chazelle (Whiplash) seems to enjoy
bringing some tension to his screenplays.
The opening scene is pure show biz in L.A.:
a traffic jam, where the people stuck in the cars get out and
do an old-style ensemble song and dance routine.
That's where we briefly meet the two main characters, but after
that the focus gets narrower. Mia
(Emma Stone) is an aspring actress who keeps having disastrous
auditions. She lives in a
little apartment shared with other aspiring actresses (who all have an
energetic number at the beginning, then they disappear from the story
line). Sebastian (Ryan
Gosling) is a “serious” musician who's so far been forced to make
a living playing schlock songs in a dining room.
His boss (J.K. Simmons) has warned him about regressing into
jazz arrangements, but Sebastian is one of those creative guys who
literally can't help himself. And
so he's fired. Again.
Sebastian and Mia don't find a connection when they first meet
(not at their best in the traffic jam) or when they meet again at a
party (singing together afterwards about what a waste of a good view).
But soon their relationship starts to click (at some point they
obviously moved in together), and we find them enjoying dating so much
that they just break out into song and dance together (well, this is a
musical). They are both
young, and they cherish each other's dreams:
she wants to be both an actress and a playwright, and he wants
to open his own nightclub where “real” jazz is still featured.
In the meantime, she works at a coffee shop near Hollywood,
finally getting a part in a televison show, and he joins a techno/funk
band that both tours and records, but at least it pays the bills.
The irony is pure showbiz:
eventually, they both get most of what they think they want,
but their careers are divergent, because now she's traveling and he
isn't. They promise
themselves that the distance won't defeat their relationship, but
prolonged absences rarely help long-term commitments.
The style of singing here is not exactly classic Broadway
It's a quieter style, with mostly invisble orchestration.
Mia's voice, while serviceable, hardly possesses the amazing
overtones of say, an Adele. And
Sebastian's baritone, while usable, is not really remarkable, either.
Where Ryan Gosling really shines is as a pianist, and that part
is completely belieavable. Their
dancing is competent enough to not distract, but their backup dancers
appear to have more internal rhythm and better artistic expression.
So we have to rely on the romance to propel the film, which is
not quite happily ever after. More
like “see you in my dreams.”
But despite all its flaws, still, it's great to see a new
musical in 2016. Hopefully,
it will get some attention at awards time, so the studios will
consider reviving the genre, even if modified for modern audiences.
Those who want to go to “positive” movies without all the
R-rated sex, violence, and language, and aren't into sci-fi, will find
this one refreshingly entertaining.