La La Land - a Movie Musical for the Modern Age
After years of being sidelined by film critics and fans around the world, the original movie musical is back, and somewhat brighter than before. Over the past couple of years stage-to-screen adaptations of popular musicals have grown thanks to the Oscar-winning success of Rob Marshall's 'Chicago' back in 2002. Since then, big screen adaptations of musicals such as 'Dreamgirls', 'Nine', 'Into the Woods' and 'Les Miserables' have all followed, each with differing levels of success.
La La Land is an original musical comedy-drama that both continues and bucks the trend set by movie musicals over the past fifteen years. Written and directed by Damien Chazelle and starring Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, John Legend and Rosemarie DeWitt, it's a beautiful example of how the genre can be used on the big screen to exceptional success. Having only opened in the USA, with a UK release date set for Friday 13 January, the film has already reported strong grosses and has won the Critics' Choice Movie Award for Best Picture as well as numerous Golden Globe nominations including those for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Screenplay, Best Original Score and Best Original Song. There is significant Oscar buzz around the film thanks to positive reviews, and both Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone have been praised for their on-screen chemistry and understated musical prowess.
Much of the film's success has been credited to the turbulent political climate, and as American filmgoers found themselves at the end of the most divisive and bitter election battles in living memory the escapist tone of the film has been commented on as a contributing factor for its overall success. Musical comedy films have a long history of lifting America and the rest of the world out of depressing political and social times and it seems that once again this light-hearted yet substantial film has certainly ticked a lot of boxes even amongst non-traditional musical theatre fans.
A significant part of the film's domestic success comes from the creative talent on board. Damien Chazelle's breakout 2014 hit film 'Whiplash' was a critical smash and saw the screenwriter and director nominated for numerous industry awards, including five Academy Awards, catapulting him into the mainstream. Originally conceived alongside his Harvard University classmate composer Justin Hurwitz, the pair aimed to use the ingredients of old musicals but place them in a real life situation where happy endings don't always work out. On the surface it's a traditional Boy-meets-Girl story, set in the crazy and unforgiving world of Los Angeles, a "city of stars" where everyone is there chasing their dreams. La La Land indirectly pays homage to classic Hollywood film musicals such as 'Broadway Melody of 1940', 'Singin’ in the Rain', and 'The Band Wagon', and Chazelle even held screenings of classic films such as 'The Umbrellas of Cherbourg' and 'Top Hat' each Friday to show the cast his inspiration for the film they were making together.
Unlike other movie musicals of recent times La La Land dispenses with the Broadway bombast that haunted films such as 'Nine' and 'Les Miserables', creating a subtler genre that arguably has much wider appeal. Using Gosling and Stone, who made her triumphant Broadway debut in Cabaret back in 2014, the film became rooted in the filmic mode and rather than expand on a Broadway score the music and singing appears more naturally and is less abrasive.
The score is composed and orchestrated by Justin Hurwitz and includes lyrics by musical theatre rising stars Benj Pasek and Justin Paul who are currently represented on Broadway with their knock-out hit musical Dear Evan Hansen. The collaboration blends the very best of both worlds, opening the film with a visual and audio coup in the song "Another Day of Sun" filmed using a 1950s style wide-screen CinemaScope, performed in a single take similar to the style of Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire.
Marc Platt Productions played a significant part in bringing the film to fruition, a producer who has significant experience working on musical theatre on film. Speaking to him at the launch of the movie musical 'Into the Woods', which he also produced, he confirmed his love of original film musicals and revealed that he had just optioned the book 'The Egg and the Spoon' which will be an original film musical featuring music by Fun Home's Jeanine Tesori. He's also part of the production team for two upcoming movie musicals, Disney's live action Beauty and the Beast which lands in March 2017, and the eagerly anticipated film version of 'Wicked' which won't make it to the screen until December 2019.
With tried and tested titles greenlighted and in production, the success of La La Land will hopefully pave the way for a new age of the original movie musical. And who knows, perhaps we'll see La La Land land on stage in a reversal of the popular trend in the coming years.
La La Land is released in the UK on Friday 13 January 2017.