EDITORIAL: Five films to watch before "La La Land"
“La La Land” lives up to its tremendous hype of visual artistry, technical prowess, and romantic whimsy. There are fingerprints of influences all over the film. Musicals can be an acquired taste, so people may need some warming up this winter month to get in the right place to see and receive Damien Chazelle’s glorious new film.
With the glitzy Los Angeles setting of “La La Land,” many will point to the Old Hollywood musicals of Gene Kelly, especially “Singin’ in the Rain,” as a necessary practice rounds, but “La La Land” is an unequivocally modern-set film. A different range is possible. Furthermore, advising you to re-watch “Whiplash” for Chazelle’s kicks or revisit “Rebel Without a Cause” to touch base with the Griffith Observatory are too easy for practice. Dig deeper and try a few of these on for size as a “La La Land” primer.
1. “The Last Five Years” — The dueling careers between the lovers of Jason Robert Brown’s Off-Broadway play is a much better comparison than “Singin’ in the Rain.” Richard LaGravenese adapted Brown’s work into a smashing 2014 film with Anna Kendrick and “Supergirl” supporting star Jeremy Jordan. If you’ve only seen and loved Anna Kendrick perform in the “Pitch Perfect” series, you owe to yourself to see what she can do with real material.
2. “The Artist” — One can argue that Frenchmen Michel Hazanavicius and Jean Dujardin nailed the dreaminess of Old Hollywood better than anyone else in recent years with their semi-experimental silent film homage to a bygone era. There are things this film gets right and the black-and-white visuals will stand as a perfect exchange with the wondrous color of “La La Land.”
3. “An American in Paris” — If you must see one Gene Kelly musical and performance to slide into the “La La Land” zone, make it “An American in Paris.” This is more the struggling artist and woulda-coulda-shoulda story to parallel Damien Chazelle’s new film. Emma Stone’s characters dreamy goal surrounds Paris, giving a nod to a film like this.
4. “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg” — Speaking of Paris, not all of influences of “La La Land” are rooted in Old Hollywood. When the film is not singing and dancing, “La La Land” might just have more in common with Jacque Demy’s 1964 classic than any other film on this or any other list. Passionate, bourgeoisie, and hauntingly romantic, “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg” is a spot-on match (and “The Young Girls of Rochefort” is not far behind). Pay attention for the name drop of “Genevieve” in “La La Land” and be astonished by “La La Land”’s final reel.
5. “Crazy, Stupid, Love.” — “La La Land” is the third collaboration between Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling and their chemistry is undeniable on screen. To get a taste of that, go back to their first pairing in the under-received 2011 film “Crazy, Stupid, Love.” from the directing duo of Glenn Ficarra and John Requa (“Focus,” “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot”). The romantic comedy has more twists than most thrillers and stands as one of Ryan Gosling’s peak performances for charisma and charm.
If you want to go further into different tonal tangents, hunt down some jazz from Ethan Hawke’s star turn this year in “Born to Be Blue,” Woody Allen’s “Sweet and Lowdown,” or even Spike Lee’s “Mo’ Better Blues.” For additional doses of Los Angeles, seek out the Coens’ “Hail, Caesar!” or flip the script with the dangers of Curtis Hanson’s smoky “L.A. Confidential.”One way or another, you can’t go wrong with giving “La La Land” your full attention. You won’t be disappointed.