During the 1930’s Hollywood catered to a post depression cinema audience with MGM producing lavish, choreographed musicals by Busby Berkeley. People wanted escapism from the daily grind, the grander and far removed from everyday life the better.
So in 2016/17 we have the equivalent, with modern stars replacing “Fred and Ginger”, arguably attempting to distract us from “issues” in the world. Who would have thought classic musicals would make a comeback, a bet worth taking for sure.
After a rousing (i.e. pointless but kinda fun) dance routine set on a hopefully closed stretch of freeway, we get to meet “Sebastian” Ryan Gosling. A struggling Jazz Pianist with a massive boat of a vintage car, he is a dreamer, aching for times gone by, when Jazz was trendy, edgy and not relegated to background music.
Equally struggling and head in the clouds is “Mia” Emma Stone barista to the stars, or rather working in a coffee shop that happens to be on a movie lot.
The two meet, it does not initially go well but eventually they fall for each other, hardly a spoiler and we get to see their romance played out. The classic boy meets girl story and whether their relationship/careers end well, is really the only plot theme.
Stone’s character does give an insight into the ruthless and soul crushing routine of casting auditions and rejection, full on emoting at one point, only to be interrupted by a pointless message.
What is different of course, is the singing and dancing. Yes musicals are back in spectacular style, with the ever game young stars breaking into song and dance routines at the drop of a finely detailed jaunty hat.
Whether dancing on an obvious set with LA background or literally dreamily floating high among the night stars at the Griffith observatory, a segue into a fantasy sequence is ever present. Dance shoes are ready at a moments notice or even incorporated into the story, although the latter half seems more plot orientated and dials back the routines.
Both Ryan and Stone continue their believable on screen pairing and are arguably better at the song and dance routine than most modern actors. Whether this compares to “old school” will not matter to modern audiences. Suspension of disbelief and cynicism will be required, otherwise it could be a long two hours.
A well made film from director of “Whiplash” Damien Chazelle that some will love, others hate and some, will enjoy to a point and then start to lose interest. John Legend also gets a look in as a musician tempting “Sebastian” to a more commercial strand of music, which both gives and takes away in equal measure.
It is easy to see why the “Oscar” nominations would flow for such a film, with older academy members harking back to halcyon days, where these types of films would be commonplace.
With $444m at the box office it is clear this resonated with audiences, expect to see similar stories to cash in on the craze sometime soon.
Enjoyable “old skool” style musical and no review would be complete without using the world “magical”. Whether it hits the target, will depend on your mood and like/dislike for this genre of movie, however if you suffer from “musicalphobia”, not for you.