In an interview in September, director Damien Chazelle said he thought he’d never get Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone to star in the musical. He did. Now the movie is racking up all kinds of accolades.
TORONTO — Watch Damien Chazelle’s colorful, swoony new musical “La La Land” and you’ll find yourself immersed in movies past. The film, coming to Seattle theaters Dec. 16, is a jazzy valentine to the kind of film that Hollywood just doesn’t make any more.
“The overall impulse for the film was definitely born out of a love for 1950s musicals, for Jacques Demy movies (like “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg”). In many ways, it’s a movie about movies,” said Chazelle, in an interview at the Toronto International Film Festival in September. “There’s (references to) Fred and Ginger in it, there’s Chaplin, there’s silent Murnau movies, there’s ‘Meet Me in St. Louis’ — it was really fun to make, for that reason.”
Chazelle, whose previous film “Whiplash” earned the filmmaker an Academy Award nomination for its screenplay (and won an Oscar for supporting actor J.K. Simmons), wrote “La La Land” as both big, splashy musical and intimate love story. Its main characters are Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), a jazz pianist, and Mia (Emma Stone), an aspiring actor, who meet in a Technicolor Los Angeles and fall, tunefully and bittersweetly, in love.
‘La La Land’
Opens Friday, Dec. 16, at several theaters. Rated PG-13 for some language.
“They were my dream cast,” he said of Gosling and Stone, “but I thought it would never happen.” Chazelle began writing “La La Land” back in 2010, before “Whiplash” put him on the map. (His first movie, “Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench,” is also a jazzy musical, an intimate tale filmed in black and white.) Gosling and Stone have appeared in movies together before — “Crazy Stupid Love” and “Gangster Squad.”
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“The idea was to play on the fact that we know them as a pair — there was something a little bit Fred and Ginger, or William Powell and Myrna Loy, or Hepburn/Tracy, or more recently Tom Hanks/Meg Ryan, about them,” he said. “Back then it was a little more common to see these recurring pairs. I liked that idea, that sort of tradition.”
Gosling, whom I also interviewed, said he was drawn to the project by Chazelle’s “infectious love of movies — and of the experience of going to movies. He talked a lot about trying to make films that people didn’t want to see on their iPhones, they wanted to experience in a group with an audience.”
It was the actor’s first screen musical and an immersion into song and dance: Though he had played piano previously, Gosling immersed himself in jazz piano lessons (that’s him playing on screen) and, with Stone, in dance rehearsals with choreographer Mandy Moore. Some of the film’s vocals were prerecorded and dubbed; others, particularly in the more intimate numbers, were recorded live.
“We wanted things that you’d see sometimes in the old musicals — little laughs or breaths or flubs, that can be part of the humanity of it,” Chazelle said. “The big dance numbers were a challenge, but they were, again, part of the fun of it. We knew that we wanted to do it in longer takes and not find it in the editing room.”
Gosling, praising the work of composer Justin Hurwitz (who wrote the songs, with lyricists Benj Pasek and Justin Paul), described the exhilaration of filming those numbers. “We all found ourselves getting carried away. The crew would clap at the end of every take — the music has that effect on you.”
You can see that joy on screen in “La La Land,” which is already piling up accolades and should be a major player come Oscar time. (It won the prestigious People’s Choice award at TIFF, and was last week named the year’s best film by the New York Film Critic’s Circle.) Describing the impact of “Meet Me in St. Louis,” Chazelle could just as well be talking about his own film: “You watch a movie like that, and you’re smiling ear to ear, and you walk out of the theater happy.”