By Jake Howell jake.howell@utoronto.ca

Toronto Review: LA LA LAND

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When a movie like La La Land is so buzzed about and this heavily lauded, it can feel when you’re trying to write a review, you’re only chiming in rather than saying anything fresh or interesting. “It’s a Best Picture racehorse,” you’ll read; “It’s a prizewinner in any regard,” handicappers agree; “It’s an astounding, fantastic, emotionally overwhelming American m-o-v-i-e movie,” your musically-inclined movie-going friends (or parents) will sing. It’s great. It’s grand. I loved it. You will too.

And yet this Ryan Gosling-Emma Stone musical love-letter duet to creativity is not my favorite film at TIFF; it may not crack my top five of the year.

How can a film so intensely gorgeous and show-stopping as La La Land not find lodge in my mind? I keep forgetting I have seen it. In the days following the Toronto premiere of Damien Chazelle’s legitimately monumental effort, I find myself more drawn to thinking about the wispy, ethereal darkness of Nocturnal Animals and the study in subtlety of Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight. (Not to mention the three (!) masterpieces from earlier festivals, Paterson, Toni Erdmann, and Manchester by the Sea.) These movies may not stick around as long as La La Land (especially at the box-office) but they are certainly riskier in ways that resonate and register beyond my serotonin levels.

Maybe this isn’t fair. Unrelated comparisons suck as much as indiscriminate movie cynicism. La La Land’s energetic and vibrant pastiche of Old Hollywood practices and obsolete forms of expression result in an indelible movie. My face was warm throughout; I was out of breath at its emotional finale. It’s two hours of frisson, anchored by a wonderful Emma Stone performance that needs only two words (“I Ran!”) to demonstrate how truly fun and escapist it is.

The idea that a movie is faultless is crazy, because perfection is an intangible, untenable ideal. But 31-year-old Chazelle has managed to get near, arriving at an extremely close sweet spot of accessible depth and toe-tapping entertainment. If it survives the award-season onslaught of negative knee-jerking (just look at what became of The Artist), you can wave hello to a new American classic. If this is cotton candy, it’s woven from the clouds of movies beloved by millions.

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“Let me try and be as direct as I possibly can with you on this. There was no relationship to repair. I didn’t intend for Harvey to buy and release The Immigrant – I thought it was a terrible idea. And I didn’t think he would want the film, and I didn’t think he would like the film. He bought the film without me knowing! He bought it from the equity people who raised the money for me in the States. And I told them it was a terrible idea, but I had no say over the matter. So they sold it to him without my say-so, and with me thinking it was a terrible idea. I was completely correct, but I couldn’t do anything about it. It was not my preference, it was not my choice, I did not want that to happen, I have no relationship with Harvey. So, it’s not like I repaired some relationship, then he screwed me again, and I’m an idiot for trusting him twice! Like I say, you try to distance yourself as much as possible from the immediate response to a movie. With The Immigrant I had final cut. So he knew he couldn’t make me change it. But he applied all the pressure he could, including shelving the film.”
James Gray

“I’m an unusual producer because I control the destiny of a lot of the films I’ve done. Most of them are in perfect states of restoration and preservation and distribution, and I aim to keep them in distribution. HanWay Films, which is my sales company, has a 500-film catalogue, which is looked after and tended like a garden. I’m still looking after my films in the catalogue and trying to get other people to look after their films, which we represent intellectually, to try to keep them alive. A film has to be run through a projector to be alive, unfortunately, and those electric shadows are few and far between now. It’s very hard to go and see films in a movie house. I was always involved with the sales and marketing of my films, right up from The Shout onwards. I’ve had good periods, but I also had a best period because the film business was in its best period then. You couldn’t make The Last Emperor today. You couldn’t make The Sheltering Sky today. You couldn’t make those films anymore as independent films. There are neither the resources nor the vision within the studios to go to them and say, “I want to make a film about China with no stars in it.”Then, twenty years ago, I thought, “OK, I’m going to sell my own films but I don’t want to make it my own sales company.” I wanted it to be for me but I wanted to make it open for every other producer, so they don’t feel that they make a film but I get the focus. So, it’s a company that is my business and I’m involved with running it in a certain way, but I’m not seen as a competitor with other people that use it. It’s used by lots of different producers apart from me. When I want to use it, however, it’s there for me and I suppose I’m planning to continue making all my films to be sold by HanWay. I don’t have to, but I do because it’s in my building and the marketing’s here, and I can do it like that. Often, it sounds like I’m being easy about things, but it’s much more difficult than it sounds. It’s just that I’ve been at it for a long time and there’s lots of fat and security around my business. I know how to make films, but it’s not easy—it’s become a very exacting life.”
~ Producer Jeremy Thomas