Movie Review: La La Land Straddles the Line Between Fantasy and Reality

Highly-touted film is creativity in motion.

It’s being billed as a top contender for the Academy Award for Best Picture, earned numerous SAG and Golden Globe nominations and has already garnered Critics Choice awards for Best Picture and Best Director. La La Land, ( directed by Damien Chazelle (who also directed Whiplash), takes us on a musical adventure in the city of big dreams, Los Angeles. From the opening dance sequence on a southern California freeway to a duet while floating among the stars, the entertainment never stops.

La La Land tells the story of two aspiring young artists who cross paths while stuck in a freeway traffic jam. Emma Stone plays a budding actress who has confidence issues, and Ryan Gosling is a struggling jazz musician who stubbornly refuses to sell out on his dream of owning his own jazz club. As their lives cross paths, the audience is taken along on their journey, with every joy and heartache the characters experience along the way.

The film is defined best by its dance sequences, which are both entertaining and magical, and the special effects add a fantasy-like charm. Stone and Gosling prove to be surprisingly good singers. If you enjoy the musicals from the golden age of the 1950s and 1960s, La La Land is certain to please you. I don’t want to spoil all the fun but you can watch the trailer here.

As Stone and Gosling’s goals begin to conflict with one another and their paths diverge, reality begins to settle in. Each came to LA with a vision for their career, which altered with each failed audition or as new opportunities arose. When confronted with each challenge, their characters re-assessed and questioned their paths. Just like in the real world

In one scene, for example, Gosling is approached by an old musical acquaintance (played by John Legend) who invites him to join his band. Gosling hesitates at first, but later changes his mind. As he stands up on stage playing music that runs counter to his jazz background, Stone and the movie audience is left wondering if he sold out on his dream. Or did he catch a glimpse of his own reality, that he would never open his own jazz club without a cash cow to support him? In relaxing his own stubborn stance on jazz, he opened up to an opportunity – as distasteful as it was — that gave him a path toward his dream.

Sound familiar? How many of us as struggling artists or disgruntled business owners have found ourselves hitting the pavement in search of more steady, secure work. There is something to be said for security, especially when you come from nothing and are barely making ends meet. At those times, realism sets in; the fantasy has to be set aside for the time being.

And that message may be both a strength and a weakness of La La Land. This film does such a wonderful job building the fantasy, creating dream sequences that transport us to an alternate reality, that it can be difficult to accept the harsh truth of reality when we come face to face with it. Many people may find the film’s ending a bit disappointing, a letdown after the joyous highs of the film. The truth is, it ended the only way it could.

Stone and Gosling do live happily ever after – just not in the way we expect. Reality can be difficult to accept when you’ve been living in La La Land.

Movie Review: “The Intern” Teaches Workplace Communication The Old-Fashioned Way

Bear with laptop

It used to be that men carried a clean handkerchief with them for those rare occasions when they needed to blow their nose, or as Robert DeNiro’s character Ben Whitaker suggests in “The Intern,”  hand it to a woman in distress. “Women cry,” he explains to a young male co-worker at About The Fit, a clothing e-commerce business where they work. “You need to be ready to give them your handkerchief. That’s the only reason we carry it.”

In a later scene, when the object of the young co-worker’s affection cries, fretting about her future with the company, he rushes to her side and hands her a handkerchief (conveniently provided by Whitaker who happens to be standing by).

In today’s fast-paced business environment where Twitter and texting are today’s communications tools of choice, sharing a handkerchief seems quaint. But perhaps DeNiro’s character knows something many of his younger co-workers haven’t learned. You can communicate a lot more with a simple gesture – a hug, a smile, a hand on a shoulder or passing along a clean handkerchief – than you can with any mobile device or social media message. The fact is, exchanging words in an email or text message might be the standard of the day, but they are only tools of the trade. What do they really communicate? What we might have gained in efficiency in our communications via our mobile devices, in the process, have we lost the personal connection and compassion that our relationships need to thrive?

Whitaker was a master at observance. He learned more about his workmates just by watching their behavior and listening to their conversations. Whitaker’s calm and cheerful outlook did not go unnoticed by his boss, Jules Ostin (played by Anne Hathaway), who wanted to transfer him to another department because she was uncomfortable with him around and didn’t believe she needed his services. He was, in Jules words, “too observant.”

How much more can we learn from our colleagues and clients if, like Ben Whitaker, we simply kept our mouths shut and observed what is happening around us. Whitaker may not have been Facebook-savvy, but he understood more about how to communicate with compassion and maturity.  He noticed when Jules was struggling in her marriage without interfering, though he might have been tempted. And he refused to judge others for their behavioral indiscretions and refrained from expressing his opinion, allowing others to learn from their own mistakes. He was adept at reading people’s emotions, and that’s a lost art.

What I appreciated most about this film, though not a movie classic by any means, was that the younger co-workers eventually accepted Whitaker and all his apparent eccentricities. They learned more from him than they were willing to admit, including the co-worker who was so intrigued by Whitaker’s old battered briefcase that he bought one for himself on Ebay.

These are communications lessons we all can learn, no matter how old or young we are.