My wife and I indulged in a first-run movie last night. A choir member gifted us with theater tickets and we had a nice experience. I texted my wife and asked her to pick a film. So she chose this one, whose poster you see, left.
I tend to be a skeptic on fads. Sometimes I come around, as I did with Harry Potter, reading the first book as lines were out around the block for #4. Hamilton. But I have to admit: sometimes critical acclaim is spot on.
There are many love affairs in this movie. Sebastian and Mia: that’s obvious. On Sebastian’s love for jazz: one of the best descriptions of the genre is when he’s explaining to Mia, who professes dislike. By the end of the movie, I think she’s largely drawn into it. Somebody loves Los Angeles; no other scenes are as lovingly shot as the views of the city, even from jam-packed expressways. Love for old movies: check.
So this is a musical, if you count movies with some songs in them. The songs serve to deepen the narrative, but all is driven by the various loves.
If this movie has a flaw, I wonder if it’s with the writing of the character Mia. She aspires to being an actor. She does take her beau and the viewer on an affectionate tour of a Hollywood studio. But the pounding, relentless rejections of auditions are more soul-sapping than her lover’s experience with music. He can get music gigs whenever, whatever. But the jazz cannot be held in. Until he tries to hold it in for her benefit, based on a conversation he overhears between her and her mother. I don’t think Mia’s love for acting quite comes through. No scenes from her one-woman play are shown. The viewer gets auditions, backstage scenes, and the final bow, but nothing at all of the substance of Sebastian’s music. Maybe it’s just because a guy wrote and directed the movie. And maybe it’s nit-picky, but the two leads here, Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone are more than a match for this material. Their craft is outstanding throughout.
My favorite aspect was the infusion of a kind of magical realism in many of the musical numbers. Sebastian gets a do-over of sorts in the film’s epilogue, replaying the last five years of his life if he hadn’t been a jerk on his second encounter with Mia. So there’s a bit of melancholy to finish off the film. I think my wife disliked that: no ending is totally happy. She did remark that the potty language was minimal and there were no depictions of sex beyond kissing and dancing. Then I recalled that people are shown in bed, but almost always alone.