Hate Musicals? You Might Love La La Land, Anyway

Photo: Courtesy of Summit Entertainment.
In middle school, I joined chorus to hang out with my best friend, despite the fact that I had a terrible voice. That meant I spent the class period socializing — while also anxiously wondering if my teacher would notice I wasn't paying attention and yank me up to sing in front of the group as a form of punishment. I don't remember that ever actually happening, though I may have blacked it out from my memory.

More than learning I couldn't sing, middle school was also the era when I learned that I hate musicals. And while it is tempting to think that those two things are connected, I think it may have more to do with a low tolerance for cutesy song and dance than an inability to achieve a pitch-perfect high D.

Until recently, my list of approved musicals had been really short, as in only Moulin Rouge! But as of this month, I have another one I can tolerate, bringing my list of favorite movie musicals to a whole two films. La La Land stars Emma Stone as a Mia, a struggling actress searching for her first big break; Ryan Gosling plays Sebastian, a talented jazz pianist with dreams of owning his own club. Both live in the chaotic, energizing, and colorful city of Los Angeles, where their lives become intertwined in a whirlwind of song, dance, and soulful gazing at one another.

La La Land is a heartwarming, but not nauseating, story that will leave you feeling good when you walk out of the theater. But for those who need a little more convincing, I pin-pointed the five factors that made me fall in love with La La Land. If it met my bar, then I bet you'll love it, too.

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Photo: REX/Shutterstock.
The dazzling visuals are enchanting enough to make you forget that the cheesy opening sequence is straight-up Broadway.
Even though the film is set in modern-day Los Angeles, the style of the characters and the cinematic treatment of many of the dance sequences feel straight off the MGM lot at its prime.

A scenario pulled from the daily grind — like, looking for your parked car in a sea of Priuses — gets transformed into a whimsical (and surprisingly not obnoxious) dance duet. Gosling and Stone's characters each conveniently have a pair of tap shoes handy, of course.

During that impromptu car search turned tap routine, the saturation of the sunset is upped 10 notches, and the glow of street lights is warm and flattering, rather than ghostly and fluorescent. The imaginary dance sequences between Stone and Gosling feel like manifestations of desire and flirtation, instead of kitschy one-two steps with top hats and canes. Under the guidance of director Damien Chazelle, anything feels possible.

Instead of making me cynical about the absurdity of engaging in a random duet at dusk with a strange man I just met, it made me think: This is lust at first sight, isn't it?
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Photo: REX/Shutterstock.
The instant connection between Stone and Gosling is very convincing.
For years, Gosling and Stone have been flaunting their great chemistry with the "unlikely couple" trope. In Crazy, Stupid, Love, Stone plays the confident girl who winds up softening the hard (as in: abs of steel) exterior of ladies' man Gosling.

In La La Land, Gosling once again has a hardness about him. But this time, it spurs from anxieties about achieving his goal. He is kind of a loser: a deadbeat living in an apartment with no furniture to sit on. Stone's situation is a bit different. She's (trying to) make things happen for herself, working at a coffee shop on a studio lot and auditioning for shitty roles with as much grace and enthusiasm as she can muster. Together they find companionship rooted in their dedication to seeing each other's dreams come true.

There's one especially perfect scene in the Griffith Observatory that I should have hated, according to my usual levels of cynicism, but it is so delightful that it made my Grinch-sized heart grow three sizes bigger.
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Photo: REX/Shutterstock.
The jazz score is unexpectedly awesome.
I forgot I liked jazz! This movie brought the genre back to life for me. For most of the film, Gosling is convincing Stone to like jazz, and by the end of it, he had, by default, fully convinced me as well.

Instead of scoring the film with an orchestra playing predictable instruments and creating static background music, jazz musicians, as Gosling's character explains, change their songs with each performance. It's not (always) elevator music, it's a battle royal between every type of instrument: wind, string, percussion, and voice. It's complex and unpredictable. It's airy, light, and seamlessly carries the audience from scene to scene without feeling like a school play. Chazelle is behind another movie you should check out if you haven't yet, Whiplash, which is also heavy on the jazz.
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Photo: Dale Robinette/REX/Shutterstock.
Gosling is actually playing the piano in the film.
Singing and dancing is difficult. (I can't do either.) But singing, dancing, and playing the piano with heartbreaking emotion makes Gosling a triple threat and then some.

Gosling works as a restaurant pianist during winter (the film is split into four parts reflecting the seasons) and is forced to play children's level Christmas songs like "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" to completely uninterested diners. The longer he plays, the more you can see the wheels turning in his head — and you know there's about to be an epic piano riff.

From there, Gosling seduces with the ivory keys a few more times, each one more soul-searching than the last. To know that he legitimately learned how to play the piano for his part is enough to make me respect the dedication that he had for the film.
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Photo: REX/Shutterstock.
Just Gosling in general...
I just can't get over how Gosling this role is. It's as though it were written for him (which it wasn't, because Miles Teller almost played the part).

Gosling as Sebastian is chatty, but shy. He's a dreamer, but he's stubborn. He's a dedicated boyfriend, but still messes things up. He's a support system, even though he's a bit lost himself. He's a romantic, even though he pretends not to be. He should be nominated for an Oscar (but he won't be, because the glowing Stone often steals the scenes they share). Stone is also incredible; she's always been a theater girl. This is Gosling's moment to show how far he's come from his Hercules days.
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Now that I have surely convinced you to go see the movie, which is out December 9, why not indulge in a little preview of what's to come?

Other Highlights Include:

— Stone's highlighter-bright dresses
— A Very Gosling performance of "I Ran"
— A party montage scene in which the cameraman jumps in the water
— An ending sequence that breaks your heart then mends it, then breaks it again
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