Once a day, until Dec. 25, we'll be highlighting a specific small, good thing that happened in popular culture this year. And we do mean small: a moment or image from a film or TV show, a panel from a comic, a brief exchange from a podcast, or a passage from a book.
Don't call it "splashy."
Yes, Damien Chazelle's musical La La Land throbs with bright, retina-sizzling primary colors, and many scenes take place in the cinematic "golden hour" of sunset, when Los Angeles' baseline sun-blasted, sun-bleached character gives way to something more inviting, and mysterious.
But the L.A. of La La Land is no mere cinematic concoction, no studio backlot (... except for those scenes that take place on a studio backlot). Most of it takes place in, and on, the streets of L.A. (There's even a montage in which the two leads are seen ... walking. Which officially qualifies the film as high fantasy.)
It's this fusion of Old-Hollywood artifice and grubby reality that's the film's true subject. And nowhere is it more perfectly distilled than in its second musical number, "Someone in the Crowd."
The song finds Emma Stone's Mia enticed to go out to a Hollywood Hills party by her three roommates, each one of them decked out in a dress of a different brilliant color. As they walk four abreast down the middle of the street toward Mia's car, the song's beat and its melody meld together.
And then, in unison, the four women kick their right heels back. Once, twice.
It's not flashy, much less splashy, but it works. It's so minimal you'd be hard pressed to call it choreography, but it's the moment when the film's disparate elements coalesce.
The dresses' vibrant colors pop, as they're set against the sky at twilight. But the streetlights blast the four women in harsh overhead glare, and the street they're walking down is all cracked, pitted asphalt and faded paint. The horizon behind them throngs with telephone poles and antennas.
And that car they're walking toward? A Prius.
In that moment, an old-school Hollywood musical exists with a grubbier, contemporary reality — which, of course, is what the film's about: the place where dreams of making art abrade against the harsh, mundane world of business.
Only, you know, catchy.
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