I dreamed of being a Broadway director in my 20s. It was what I thought I was born to do with my life besides being a teacher. I imagined myself the creator of a vision that I could see not only the end but the beginning as well, depending on your perspective. I lived in New York briefly but never gave myself the gift of genuinely going for it. In my naïveté, I thought if it was meant to be, it will happen. Oh, so not true. The arts take hours of training, repetitious practices, more rejections than positivity, buckets of sweat, tears, and moments of grace and humility. The arts take every ounce of courage and tenacity you can muster. It resembles a small, burning flame that sears your soul and can’t be extinguished. And when it finds a way to be lit, it is the purest form of joy felt throughout your being. In those early years, I didn’t have anyone on my side. There was no one to nudge or guide me. Luckily for me, I chose teaching and directing the arts.
My light was illuminated tenfold by being the flame for others. It was who and what I was meant to be. But there are secret, silent seconds when I wonder where my path would lead if I had someone beside me whispering, “Pis Y Caca” in my ear. Makes you wonder. And I am positive if there are alternate timelines, my address would be New York City. There can be two or more ways to envision a life; they are all perfect. I think about this when watching one of my favorite films, LA LA LAND. It makes my dreams colorful, CinemaScope, widescreen, and surrounds me with thousands of bright stars. It is, after all, always about timing.
LA LA LAND was a humongous hit in 2016. It won oodles of awards, including six Oscars for Best Actress, (Emma Stone) Best Director, (Damian Chazelle), Best Cinematography, Best Musical Score, (Justin Hurwitz) Best Original Song, and Best Production Design. It almost won Best Picture for nearly two minutes during the presentations, but that’s an Oscar blooper that will be etched in history forever. Golden Globes were also showered upon this brilliant film (Far too many to list, but it received one for Best Film and was a “keeper”).
LLL was a rom-com tribute to all the musicals that came before. It was an homage to those show-stopping extravaganzas that audiences remember well. The film also is a hug and a kiss to all the endearing duos of yesteryear (Bogey and Bacall, Kelly and all his many partners, along with Astaire and Rodgers). Chazelle and Hurwitz created this magnificent movie during their college years. It was put away until after they had more star power through WHIPLASH’s success, which led them to bigger budgets. (There’s that timing thing again.) Their partnership was a match made in heaven. They represent a pure genius outlook on creating a film for all time. There is no denying all the many touches and nuances they insisted had to be included in their storytelling. Magical moments that included over 70 locations throughout Los Angeles. The city itself became an added character and was displayed at its best. This entire film took only two months to make, while the preparations were almost twice as long.
Casting Emma Stone as Mia and Ryan Gosling as Sebastian was love at first sight. They were not meant to be perfect dancers, singers, or pianists. The director wanted the flaws to show through as they would in real life. Both actors worked hard at their craft. Ryan learned how to play the piano to perfection. No CGI or dubbed hands in post-production. He practiced two hours a day, six days a week, for several months. Unbelievable. And both Emma and Ryan sweated with Mandy Moore at her dance boot camp. The chemistry between these two leads was palpable. It was said they were so in sync on and off camera that all it took was a raised eyebrow or a glance to keep them “looking” so in love. Their characters were polar opposites, yet their passion for each other made their scenes look effortless and authentic. All anyone could do was sigh as a reaction, watching their actions and intentions.
LLL contains millions of moments of greatness. The opening musical number was exciting and explosively creative. Dancing, biking, skateboarding, and performing all dance genres while stuck on a freeway was enchanting and miraculous to pull off (temps ran over 105 degrees). For some, JUST ANOTHER DAY OF SUN offers performing artists the hope of a new day and the confidence of their abilities. This is all they have to hang onto when their destiny is in someone else’s hands during auditions.
CITY OF STARS at the Griffith Observatory was one of my favorite scenes. Flying among the stars is how dreams are remembered. Breath-defying and gathering moments that cause goose bumps to appear and wrap our hearts in sheer delight. The montage of what could have been, the dinner fight dialogue that escalated into silence, the simplicity of the pier at sunset, the vibrant colors of their costumes, dancing on a hilltop (“Can you believe this view? I’ve seen better”) tapping under a lamppost, John Legend, J.K. Simmons, the sound of that car horn, the emptiness of Mia’s one-woman show, a trumpet solo, lighting effects that pull viewers deep within the performance, the pain of auditioning, and the AUDITION of a lifetime. (HERE’S TO) I could go on and on. LA LA LAND is a visual feast for our senses.
LA LA LAND breathes life into a time gone by. It is a classic celebration of all the “fools who dream…” Joyous, minute moments that have the power to change lives. Do it. Go for it. Dare the universe. I am here for all of you shouting “Pis Y Caca.” It is never about “if;” it is always about “when.”
LA LA LAND is available to stream on APPLE TV+.