Friday, June 22, 2018
Things To Do

Review: 'La La Land' is the exuberant musical we all thought was extinct

Fade in to a typically stalled Los Angeles freeway, each car and driver tuned into different music and ambitions. Out of diverse noise, one salsa beat and its listener steps up, singing about another day of sun and striving.

Within seconds, a traffic jam explodes into a jam in traffic, with cars used as dance floors and dozens of strangers intuitively, incredibly knowing all the lyrics and dazzling moves.

Welcome to La La Land, population whoever loves movie musicals and believed them extinct.

Not a jukebox musical like Pitch Perfect or a Broadway obligation like Les Miserables, but an honest-to-Vincente Minnelli blend of original music and golden age Hollywood presentation. La La Land is a trove of references to musical milestones, not derivative but truly inspired. A more joyful movie for grown-ups can't be found this season.

That traffic jam includes Mia (Emma Stone), an aspiring actor on her way to another disappointing audition. The driver she flipped off is Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), a jazz pianist and purist on his way to work playing schmaltz for diners. They'll meet rudely twice again before falling in love, taking viewers with them.

That's the plot of La La Land in a deceptive nutshell. What Damien Chazelle's movie lacks in narrative depth it repays tenfold in exuberance and style. What were many musicals of the 1940s and '50s besides boy-meets-girl flights of fantasy? What matters is personality, of the lovers in question and how they're framed. La La Land excels on both counts.

Stone is a more polished musical performer than Gosling, clear voiced and persuasively selling a lyrics' message. Her climactic showcase Audition (The Fools Who Dream) soars on whispers, her girls-night-out anthem Someone in the Crowd on sashaying spirit. Light on her feet, those blue eyes gleaming, Stone lays down a performance easy to adore.

Gosling's voice is rougher, slightly off-key, a sense of realism that golden age musicals wouldn't permit in leading men. As a dancer, he's more than capable. But watch his hands during the piano sequences. You don't see telltale camera angles or close-ups of someone else's hands tickling the keys. Gosling's piano training enables a terrific finger-synch performance, one of the most convincing ever.

Chazelle drapes this charismatic pair in primary colors and a lighting scheme deftly reflecting what Mia and Sebastian are feeling, a mood ring movie of sorts.

Dramatic musical numbers like Audition or Sebastian's insubordinate version of Deck the Halls are shrouded in blues, a single spotlight on the artist making viewers lean in. Street lights become romantic beacons; a planetarium lifts lovers toward artificial stars. This movie is flat-out gorgeous to observe and equally easy on the ears, with Justin Hurwitz composing a score featuring a half dozen original songs.

La La Land hits a late speed bump when Chazelle briefly turns away from the musical form serving so well, a stretch when John Legend's Start a Fire is the only song but that's a concert scene, not magical realism like before. Mia and Sebastian's relationship must get rocky at some point, so a song or two expressing those issues would be welcome.

But who can complain about not enough when a movie delivers so much? La La Land slapped a smile on my face during that traffic jam that barely dimmed for two hours. Chazelle revitalizes not only a genre but an optimism coming in handy now. La La Land is the movie we didn't know we needed until it arrived.

Contact Steve Persall at [email protected] or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall.

Comments
Murman files to run for Clerk of the Court in 2020

Murman files to run for Clerk of the Court in 2020

TAMPA – Two weeks after her surprise withdrawal from the race for a Hillsborough County Commission seat, Republican Commission Chairwoman Sandy Murman dropped another political bombshell Friday by filing to run for Clerk of the Circuit Cou...
Updated: 1 hour ago
See Datz pastry chef Alicia Wolding on Netflix’s Sugar Rush

See Datz pastry chef Alicia Wolding on Netflix’s Sugar Rush

When Alicia Wolding joined Datz as the new executive pastry chef last year her hair was rainbow — pretty much the whole ROY G BIV spectrum in cascading tresses. More recently, it’s bright purple, somewhere between iris and lilac. This is the color yo...
Updated: 2 hours ago
5 recent shows to catch up on over the summer

5 recent shows to catch up on over the summer

emember all those TV shows you’ve heard about but never watched, saving them for that proverbial someday? Summer is the best time to finally watch them — curtains drawn, A/C cranked down to 70. Quick, before fall gets here, and critics start insistin...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Top things to do in Tampa Bay for Sunday

Top things to do in Tampa Bay for Sunday

Our editors' picks for June 24, 2018.
Updated: 4 hours ago
Top things to do in Tampa Bay on Saturday

Top things to do in Tampa Bay on Saturday

Our editors' picks for June 23, 2018.
Updated: 4 hours ago
St. Petersburg couple drive a minivan, volunteer at church and were CIA spies

St. Petersburg couple drive a minivan, volunteer at church and were CIA spies

What's it like to start a family when you're working for the CIA? Jihi and Andrew Bustamante know.
Updated: 6 hours ago
Boy George, coming to Tampa with Culture Club, talks fame, Pulse and the term ‘LGBTQ’

Boy George, coming to Tampa with Culture Club, talks fame, Pulse and the term ‘LGBTQ’

It’ll still be June when Boy George arrives in Florida this week to kick off a summer U.S. tour with Culture Club. But the LGBTQ icon says it won’t feel quite like a Pride parade. "I also bake cakes for straight people," he laughed. "Tha...
Updated: 10 hours ago
ScART program empowers people to explore their scars and express their feelings through art

ScART program empowers people to explore their scars and express their feelings through art

ST. PETERSBURGShyly, 8-year-old Annabelle Brassfield climbed atop a stool in front of a blank easel, grabbed a brush she named Scarlet and prepared to paint her scars. After three open heart surgeries for a severe congenital heart defect, she’s left ...
Published: 06/22/18
Top things to do in Tampa Bay for June 23

Top things to do in Tampa Bay for June 23

St. Pete Pride Block Party and Night Parade: St. Pete Pride’s popular parade has moved to downtown St. Petersburg’s scenic waterfront. The block party brings DJs, food and drinks starting at 2 p.m. The parade steps off at Fifth Ave NE and Bayshore at...
Published: 06/22/18
Top things to do in Tampa Bay for June 24

Top things to do in Tampa Bay for June 24

Summer Classic Movie Series: See 1962’s To Kill a Mockingbird. 3 p.m., Tampa Theatre, 711 Franklin St., Tampa. $10, $7 members. (813) 274-8982; tampatheatre.org.St. Pete Pride Festival: The daytime festival covers Central Avenue’s Grand Central Distr...
Published: 06/22/18