DFF 39 opened with a bang. And the appearance of a bona-fide A-lister. Emma Stone, currently considered a frontrunner in the very competitive Best Actress Oscar race for her work in La La Land, lit up the red carpet with glamour and the glow of a star ascending to even higher heights. Stone worked the press line with director Damien Chazelle as a prelude to their luscious film’s triumphant bow as the opening centerpiece of the festival.
Even before that happened, the crowd was in high spirits as a host of other players from the festival’s robust 200+ title slate walked the carpet, enjoying the energy and the platform for their work. It was a joyous start that set the tone for an exciting festival to come. DFF has a number of other highly buzzy studio pictures, which is a great credit to the festival team, and also a great draw to bring eyeballs and attention to some of the more under the radar pictures on offer.
The fun on the red carpet gave way to a veritable seat scramble inside the towering Ellie Caulkins Opera House and opening remarks from Festival Director Britta Erickson (again, serious props to Erickson and her team for this year’s lineup), and a brief appearance from Stone and Chazelle ahead of the picture rolling.
You know we cannot resist the chance to discuss the things we watch at length, so let’s divert for a few moments here to get into it, because this picture is flat-out lovely.
B: La La Land has been on my radar for the better part of a year now. I’ve heard glowing reactions out of TIFF. I drooled over the trailers. And I danced a little dance when it was announced for DFF. Now we’ve seen it, and it was wonderful. As I really didn’t give you much choice in whether or not you actually wanted to attend this movie, we could call this a mini Required Viewing. AM, kick us off. Am I getting carried away with the love here? Was your hype also over 9000 (do you know that nerd reference that I can’t properly explain?).
A: I don’t know that reference, but I do love musicals. Whenever our Official Top 25 list comes out, you can bet there’s at least one musical in there (likely more than one with Muppets as well). It’s such an interesting and complicated way to present a story, if you think about it. Not only do you have to tell a fantastic story, you have to have your characters realistically break out into song (songs that rhyme too!) and dance. That’s no easy feat, and what a challenge to take on instead of just doing a “regular” drama or comedy. I would say my hype was measured, but I was incredibly impressed with La La Land.
Emma and Ryan are about the most perfect people to play the parts of an aspiring actress and aspiring jazz musician, respectively. Director Chazelle said in the post-film Q&A that he had always imagined those two as his leads, and I believe him. They have amazing chemistry, can sing and dance with the best of them and they have a unique modern-yet-retro look to them. Their whole personas scream “would have made a glorious Golden Age couple” and a film like this brings out the best of that.
Brooke, did this live up to your expectations? No spoilers, obviously, but what did you think of the ending? And having never lived in LA, what did you think of the portrayal of the City of Angels / City of Stars? Would you rather work as a Christmas music-playing pianist in a restaurant or as a barista on the Warner Bros. lot?
B: La La Land 100% lived up to my expectations. The big surprise for me was how easy this movie makes everything that it is doing look. As you point out, AM, a musical is incredibly difficult to pull off because it is so complex. It’s incredible that the film feels light and simple when there is actually so much happening. I’ll save the belaboring of this point for my review, but suffice it to say this, the more you think about La La Land, the more impressed you’ll be.
During the Q&A portion of the evening, Stone was asked about the ending of the film, and I think she gave the perfect answer for why it works so well. She spoke to the fact that in that ending sequence (much like in her favorite picture of all time, City Lights) everything that has happened up to that point is “earned.” All of it is paid off and given even more emotional gravity. Not even exaggerating, the ending is perfect and poignant and a result I think I’ll enjoy even more so in rewatching this picture.
From what I can tell, the portrayal of LA is pretty dead on, but slightly more romantic. It’s all through the lens of Chazelle, who has this reverence of cinema and art that more or less made me fall in love with him on the spot. Yes, there are traffic jams, but there’s also singing. Places you love close, but the devotees of the craft still find a way to honor them. I kind of hate saying “the city is a character unto itself,” because that gets said a lot, but … in this movie it’s true in the most satisfying way. Oh, and I would take barista hands down, because I too would love being across from a window where Bogey filmed an iconic scene.
Let’s talk for a minute about Emma Stone. Yes, Ryan Gosling is an incredible partner to her in this movie, but having seen it, I understand why this movie really is her movie. How did you feel about her performance? And Ryan’s too, because he’s lovely, but are you subscribing to the discussion that’s building up around her work here as Mia. As a creative, did you relate to the strife of our main characters?
A: Having lived for a couple years in LA, and fortunately not having to commute for two of those, I can still say that the traffic jams are the #1 real thing about the movie. That and the street parking situation. There’s a small inside joke that leads to the progression of the plot around a street sign that Mia doesn’t read. It’s hilarious and on point and the only thing lacking is the complexity of the sign. The struggle to understand if you’re breaking any of the MANY restrictions (cleaning, zoning, resident-only, arbitrary time limits, etc.) is super real in LA. The other thing they properly honor in La La Land is the expansive views you get if you climb any hill or mountain and the many historic and quirky touristy sites the city has to offer. They’re beautifully incorporated and they’re the type of landmarks that make you feel like you’re actually on vacation (even if you really live there). There’s sort of an unreal quality to living in Los Angeles if you’re not a native, and while I wasn’t there to make it in show biz, I certainly felt that and it comes through loud and clear here.
This is Emma’s movie, far and away. Ryan Gosling is more than a pretty face of course, as he’s got his own great acting chops, but the story and emotion all center around Mia and her decisions and choices. We’re seeing this journey from her perspective, even if she’s not in every shot. I would also take the barista job, that location would be prime for seeing lots of glitzy celebs and I’m sure they tip no worse than us non-famous plebes.
We could go on about some of the finer aspects of this film, like the striking color palate, wry humor, incredible musical call-backs and references and the fact that John Legend has one of the best voices I’ve ever heard, but I think we should just encourage people to go watch this. Poignant is the perfect way to describe the end, and Chazelle was so so right when he said that musicals can be super cheerful and tell a fun story, but they’re also a fantastic way to tell a more serious and real story as well. La La Land is both of those things.
Now that we’ve covered the red carpet, the film and the Q&A, let’s be Classy AF and discuss the swanky after-party. Which app was your favorite? How fancy did you feel drinking free prosecco? Final thoughts, please!
B: All of the apps at the party were really on point. The presentation of the mini Chinese food boxes was almost too adorable for words, and the fish tacos were substantial, but my favorite of the night was without doubt the Seb’s Chicken-on-a-Stick. This offering was a too-adorable-for-words callback to La La Land AND it was delicious. So delicious that well all ate them too fast to take a picture. But imagine this, succulent chicken over a little bed of mashed potatoes and drizzles of top notch gravy. Then put that beautiful little morsel on an adorable little bamboo plate with a bamboo fork and you get the idea. And free prosecco is my favorite prosecco, natch.
Clearly, we had a great night kicking off prestige season and DFF 39 with this incredible picture. See it. ‘Cause you know we want to talk about it at so much greater length.