Wednesday, July 13, 2016

The First "La La Land" Trailer is in Running for Best Musical of 2016

Left to right: Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling
While the summer season tends to be a wasteland for Oscar-related cinema, there's one upside to it all: the trailers for the upcoming season are starting to drop with some frequency. So far, we've seen trailers for films like Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk, Snowden, The Birth of a Nation, Cafe Society, and The Light Between Oceans to name just a few. Adding their name to the list is director Damien Chazelle, whose Sundance hit Whiplash became one of the surprise Oscar hits of 2014 and earned J.K. Simmons a deserved Best Supporting Actor statue. In his follow-up, he teams with Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling in a musical called La La Land, which dropped its first trailer today. To say the least, it is in the running for best trailer of the year - less so possibly even the best original movie musical in quite some time. 

Say what you will about Oscar diversity, but there are few genres that have slowly become a minority quite like the musical. Yes, there have been a few that have come up strong. Since 2000, Moulin Rouge, Chicago, and most recently Les Miserables have kept the Best Picture category tapping. However, there's a disparaging absence that is both reflective of the changing attitudes towards the genre as well as the general quality. Films like Into the Woods and Mama Mia! reflect a lack of care in craft while the great works are happening on a smaller scale in works like God Help the Girl. I am eager to see musicals work on a large scale, and the first trailer for La La Land has me over the moon excited about the potential.

Even as a fan of Whiplash, I was very surprised that it caught on as well as it did. It was high energy and a little too aggressive for what is considered Oscar bait. True, Simmons' great performance does lift the film a little, though I think it's more evident with its win for Best Editing and a Best Picture nomination that the arts speak to voters on a more personal level. I'm unsure how going tender will change Chazelle's overall technique, but I think that his admiration for craft gives him an edge, if just to prove himself as more than a one hit wonder who loves filming Miles Teller sweating over a drum set for 15 minutes straight.

Check out the trailer below:

Wow. It looks really, REALLY good. Here's the plot description according to IMDb:
A jazz pianist falls for an aspiring actress in Los Angeles.
What is probably the best part about the trailer is how it gives plenty away without giving anything away. True, we're aware that Stone and Gosling have a certain something going on, but it is sidetracked by gorgeous cinematography, Gosling's simple piano ballad, and a lot of colorful dance routines taken from the likes of Stanley Donen and Vincente Minnelli. It looks to romanticize the present while stylistically referencing the past in a Jacques Demy-type fashion. I know it is naive to dissect a trailer (in fact, I greatly discourage it), but it's hard to not imagine what those routines muted for the trailer will play. I am very much intrigued, mostly because it looks like we're finally getting a great original musical. Either that, or Gosling's song is just so charmingly masking something lesser.

I was intrigued by La La Land simply by the cast, but now I am on board with whatever is in store. As I said, I am mystified by what I'm seeing, and it feels both contemporary and retro in its approach to the musical. It leaves me with questions, as all good trailers should. In fact, it makes me wish that this film was out sooner than later. Then again, I'm fine with its Fall release just because it gives me something else to look forward to. Whatever the case may be, I'm going back to watching this trailer once I publish this article. Join me, won't you?

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