December 24, 2016 -- This movie is made the way they used to make them, a movie filled with music, songs, dances, romance, with a story built around show business. Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Gene Kelly and Cyd Charisse would all have been right at home in this.
While there is some great music and a couple of good songs, the singing and dancing is not as good as the drama. Making a musical film these days is harder than it was years ago when musicals were a dominant genre. It seems to be hard these days to find the right balance of acting talent and star power combined with singing and dancing talent.
Mia (played by Emma Stone of “Birdman”) is an aspiring actress working as a barista on the Warner Brothers studio lot, where a much of this film was shot. Sebastian (Ryan Gosling of “The Big Short”) is a jazz pianist stuck playing Christmas tunes in a nightclub.
The two happen to meet several times before a romance begins, once on the freeway, and another time at a nightclub, where Sebastian plays a beautiful melody called “Mia and Sebastian's Theme” by film composer Justin Hurwitz. This melody pops up several more times in the movie.
There is a real magical scene in the movie where Mia and Sebastian dance in the air among the stars at the Samuel Oschin Planetarium in the iconic Griffith Observatory.
The arc of the romance between Mia and Sebastian is convincingly told in this movie. It is a classic tale of love versus show business ambition. Mia wants to be an actress, but the odds are against her success. Sebastian wants to own his own jazz club, but the odds are against that, too.
The story is haunting and beautiful, like Mia and Sebastian's Theme. Another rousing song, “Start a Fire” is heard when Sebastian joins a pop band starring his old friend Keith (John Legend). Sebastian joins the band because he thinks that Mia wants him to, but she doesn't really. Sebastian convinces Mia to go to an audition after she has given up on acting.
The siren call of music and show business fame both brings them together and it pulls them apart, too. Mia and Sebastian both help each other achieve their show business dreams while their romance suffers. This bittersweet relationship gets a boost with an alternate reality, knock-em-dead dream sequence near the end of the film, that is one of the best things in the movie.
This film has a lot going for it, but the singing (with the obvious exception of John Legend's performance singing his own song, “Start a Fire”) and dancing isn't really up to the level of the rest of the film. Both Stone and Gosling can sing, but their voices are rather thin. The dancing is O.K., but not up to the level expected for a major Hollywood musical. There was better singing and dancing in “Hairspray,” for instance.
Whether this particular musical will spawn more of them is an open question. The fact is, musicals have never completely gone away. Hollywood spits one out from time to time, like Westerns. The popularity of live musicals, as well as song and dance contests on TV and the popularity of stage musicals indicates there is still a market (or at least fond nostalgia) for the genre. This is a colorful, energetic, vibrant, heartfelt throwback to this once wildly popular film genre. It rates a B.
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