The Countdown on New Year’s Eve isn’t over until the fat lady sings. And indeed 24 hours and counting ago, the Covent Garden coloratura rose at midnight from her table in The Ivy to sing an a cappella “Auld Lang Syne.” Tradition demands, as procrastination ensures, that the Christmas tree will now stand too long into the New Year. We can enjoy this understandable annual lull. It is soon time for regrets, resolutions, vows to diet, and the anticipation of starting another New Year…now, it is all about movies.
Christmas Hallmark movies are yesterday’s news, so I marathoned Netflix’s Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life to run out the year. Unfortunately, we have lost actor Edward Hermann, who played grandfather Richard Gilmore. In the new episodes, grandmother Emily, now a widow, moves from their Hartford mansion to be a docent in Nantucket, channels bloody, bloody Moby Dick, and runs away with the story again; Lorelai plans a wedding in the Stars Hollow gazebo; and in Rory’s story arch in London, just when it appears she and Logan would not keep their date at The Ivy, the cliff-hanger ending in Stars Hollow begs a reunion reunion.
Many of the recurring actors from the series original seven-year run appear in this six-hour re-boot. There was suspense about the return of superstar Melissa McCarthy as Sookie; chef Sookie St. James and Rory’s father, Christopher Hayden, make the last and most superfluous of myriad cameo appearances. Among all those cameos that color the four seasons of a year in Stars Hollow to shape the episodes, I felt myself loopy—lots of those characters were fun to see again, of course (everybody has a favorite)—and I appreciate that every fan’s Miss Celine is another fan’s Hanlin Charleston. Even with characters that never were fun for me, at least we have a history…so I could sit through Taylor and Babette in the reunion because I always did during the series…on the other hand, when newcomers Sutton Foster and Christian Borle just arrive in town out of nowhere (actually from Broadway), it felt like their third episode musical production would never end, and they almost drove Stars Hollow into LaLaland.
Actually, I was already in LaLaland because I’m starting the new movie year hung up on Damien Chazelle’s musical. And with good reasons. It was probably the most interesting film of the past year, and it was surely my favorite. Thus, this New Year fascination proves timely. January means that Award Season is soon upon us, and so I want to enjoy films now before the hype, promotion, and hysteria of the awards sour me on the merits of the films forever.
From the opening song in LA freeway traffic, LaLaland is a technical knockout. Structured as four seasons in LA—ironically identical in weather—music delineates the plot. Like Chazelle’s previous film, Whiplash (2014), this film is all about music, but LaLaland is also about genre filmmaking. It works because this homage is absolutely twenty-first century, and while references to musical movie history abound, Chazelle’s voice is heard everywhere and visualized to the smallest production detail. The core of Lalaland is the quintessential casting of today’s Fred Astaire and Ginger Rodgers. Those classic movie musical performances were Dancers who could act; here Gosling and Stone are Actors who can dance. Ryan Gosling is first rate as Sebastian; partner Emma Stone is perfect as Mia. The final montage counterpoints Happy Ending movie romance with contemporary reality that never misses a beat. The montage is focused and even includes damaged super 8 footage that while historically preceding the audience’s digital family video reality, instead illuminates Chazelle’s montage in movie history images. When Mia (the character) comes down the LA street with her roommates dressed to take the town, swishing her skirt like Anita in Wise’s West Side Story, Stone (the actress) boldly takes the story beyond the screen. Later in the film, when Mia runs up the long street into the LA night to escape her date and meet Sebastian at the movies—evoking Fran Kubelick’s beat-the-clock midnight-countdown-run on New Year’s Eve in Wilder’s The Apartment—Stone invites us to follow her into the frame. Movie history is lush in Chazelle’s mirror movie images, but his film is neither camp nor reverential. David Lynch’s Hollywood is here as is Nicholas Ray’s along with Stanley Donen’s—but this movie always gives us more because Lalaland is always Damien Chazelle’s City of Stars.