I spend more time watching old movies than new movies. So here it is, mid-May and I just watched “La La Land.”
I can see why it was so popular among the Hollywood crowd. This musical is about them, and they are a vain lot. It is a pretty film, nice to look at. But right now, if you asked me to sing you a song from the movie, I couldn’t do it. There’s that one in the traffic jam and the one about wasting a perfectly good night looking for a car near the Griffith Observatory.
Somewhere in there, there are other songs, right? It’s a musical, and so there are songs. People sing, usually for no reason. The music is great, but the songs are mostly not memorable.
A couple nights later, I watched “Moulin Rouge!” another musical which cast actors instead of singers. Now, I know, remembering the songs is part of the deal. We knew the songs before we ever heard them way back in 2001. That’s the charm. Everything is familiar even if the context is wildly different.
“La La Land” strives for the same effect: everything feels somewhat familiar because we’ve seen it in 100 movies before. The script even tells us we’ve seen it before with references to “Singing in the Rain” and “Rebel Without a Cause.” Instead of feeling nostalgic — a state I often am in — I wondered what the fuss was all about.
I’d even seen the focal relationship before. In “Gangster Squad” — which not enough people saw — Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone smolder. Their chemistry burns throughout that movie. Some of that carried over to “La La Land,” but it felt like the entire two hours and eight minutes was forcing me to accept that these people will be driven apart.
And then it hit me, early in my “Moulin Rouge!” viewing. The weight of the “La La Land” plot is entirely on the shoulders of Gosling. So “Moulin Rouge!” Not the same Gosling, no, but rather Nicole Kidman’s character, Satine. Owner of the Moulin Rouge, Zidler, calls Satine “gosling” throughout the movie.
This 21st-century movie musical revolution began with a gosling and may have reached its apex with a Gosling.
That’s how it happens. When something becomes too popular and may not deserve it, the backlash will begin.
Enjoy it while it lasts, folks. I predict movie musicals will die out for a couple decades like they did after “Grease.” Sure, we might get a one-off hit in the theaters like “Little Shop of Horrors” from the mid-1980s, but we are heading for easily a 15- to 25-year drought of good theatrical musicals.
I’m OK with that. I can go back and watch something like “Moulin Rouge!” instead of wasting a perfectly good night watching “La La Land” again.
Tranchell is a journalism adviser at the University of Idaho. He saw “Xanadu” in the theater when he was kid. It’s not his fault. What is your favorite — or least favorite — movie musical? Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.