With a side of socks:
In Movie Musical La La Land
It seems everyone is placing bets on how many Oscars the brilliant movie musical La La Land will win come February 26, when Jimmy Kimmel will host the 89th annual Academy Awards. It won seven Golden Globes, in every category for which it was nominated. La La Land is up for 14 Oscars, one of only three films* ever to be nominated for that many.
While other folks were banging heads, trying to name the dozens of L.A. area filming locations used in this miracle of a movie, I was intrigued by the vintage red convertible Ryan Gosling tooled around town in, disturbing the peace by constantly leaning on the horn. I think my readers know by now that I am a classic car nut. Well, I did an Internet photo search and was able to determine that it was a 1982 Buick Riviera Convertible, which at the time came in just two exterior colors (white and Firemist red) and only one interior color (red). Mr. Gosling’s ride was one of the red/red examples.
More than you want to know: GM had stopped making convertibles in 1976, so all 1982 Riviera convertibles started out as coupes, which were then converted (at great expense) to ragtops by ASC, Inc. of Lansing, MI. They are especially rare today, since only 1,250 were produced for 1982. Because the convertible cost TWICE the price of a coupe, the reason for the low production numbers is obvious. The cars were powered by a gutless 140 hp 5.0-liter 8-cylinder Oldsmobile (!) engine, with torque delivered through a 4-speed 700R automatic gearbox to front-wheel drive. Power steering and 4-wheel power disc brakes were standard equipment. Inside, the seats were ribbed leather, but the dash and door panels were veritable shrines to (obviously) fake wood – acres of it. There was even a fake wood accent strip on the metal trim along the outer edges of the front seats. The wire wheels were also fake (hubcaps, actually). But that was GM back in those days.
I thought Mr. Gosling was the one weak link in the casting (much of the time he was so expressionless that it seemed as if his jaws were wired shut – but it could have been worse; I’m thinking Keanu Reeves). Being a pianist myself, I was impressed, however, with his fake piano playing, perhaps the most realistic fake playing I’ve ever seen on TV or in films. It helps that Gosling plays piano (and cello), so he was able to successfully "fake" the parts that were beyond his technical ability -- and his rhythm is razor sharp. While he did work his butt off to learn to dance for the role of Sebastian, his voice is breathy and pitch is often vague. But that’s just me. What's more important is that Damien Chazelle created characters moviegoers really care about, and we want their relationship to succeed.
As for the musical score for La La Land, I am in awe. These days there are two types of music in films and stage musicals – the Disney stuff and everything else, which is usually dumbed-down, uninspired and forgettable (Wicked, et al) or songs full of cynicism and angst (Sondheim, anyone?). Yet composer/orchestrator Justin Hurwitz and lyricists Benj Pasek and Justin Paul managed to produce a score that is a spot on reflection of the bittersweet optimism of the screenplay. Note: Chazelle, Hurwitz, Pasek and Paul were all born in 1985, so all four will turn 32 this year.
Trivia: Screenwriter/director Damien Chazelle once aspired to be a jazz drummer, and composer Justin Hurwitz is an accomplished pianist. But Chazelle didn't write a screenplay and just turn it over to a composer and lyricists to produce a score. Chazelle insisted on approving every note of melody and every word of the lyrics. He pushed his creative team hard, and somehow they're all still friends.
While roommates at Harvard, the film's director and composer had a band called Chester French, with Chazelle on drums and Hurwitz on electric keyboards. Lyricists Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, who were classmates at the University of Michigan, also wrote both the music and lyrics for Dear Evan Hansen, a stage musical now playing on Broadway that has received widespread critical acclaim.
You didn’t hear it from me – but there is talk of a stage musical version of La La Land. Personally, I hope that prospect pans out.
*The other two? All About Eve (1950) and Titanic (1997)