Tag Archives: romantic comedy

Film Review: La La Land

La La Land – Insipid But Entertaining

la-la-land-poster

This 2016 Academy Award nominated musical (a record tying 14 nominations), written and directed by Damien Chazelle (the wunderkind creator of the astonishing Whiplash) is this year’s can-do-no-wrong romantic comedy starring Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone.

La La Land is a bold resurrection of the Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers 1940-50s musical with a blend of nostalgia (using filtered-lens cinematography and period costumes) mixed with the novelty of contemporary millennial life in Los Angeles.  A flip-book of competing images of vintage and modern L.A. with twirling skirts and old-fashioned dancing, La La Land is all about dreaming for the big break in Hollywood.

An undeniable paean to the joy and ecstasy of following your passions, this film also touches upon the sacrifices to one’s personal life, to missed connections and to other dreams that will never come true.  Part “Never-Never Land” and part “Singing in the Rain.”  However, the conventional storyline – love versus ambition – never rises above being forgettable.

Perhaps the most interesting interlude in the film, however, is Mia and Seb’s friend, Keith (John Legend) whose relaxed approach to the commercial aspects of being a musician challenge Seb’s dogmatic “purist” views of selling out to music venues.  The difference between selling out and breaking through is not always clear, and La La Land is not so hypocritical as to pretend otherwise.  I loved this observation.

The cinematography and special effects are the best part of this movie.  Except for the song “City of Stars,” the music is more competent than dazzling.  You’re more likely to remember what you saw than what you heard.

La La Land (2016) Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) and Mia (Emma Stone)

Where is La La Land going?  Is this Hollywood couple going to make it after all?  Should we care?  The film suffers from what it is supposed to parody:  Hollywood’s addiction to artifice and self-congratulation.  (Amen, sister!  – Ed.)  By the end, La La Land is an imperfect film that entertains, partly because it is a pleasant surprise to see Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone singing and dancing.

Sometimes a movie comes along that is entertaining and refreshingly light when we desire that intensely.  Right for this moment, viewers can forgive La La Land for being a not very good but deliciously tasty confection of sound and color.  I expected more given all the awards and accolades.

Diana Y. Paul

Diana Y. Paul is a retired Stanford professor, an expert on Buddhism and an author (Things Unsaid: A Novel).  You can read more of her reviews at the Unhealed Wound blog:

http://www.unhealedwound.com/

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Win Pinch Me: A Novel

On July 20th, we posted what we called Another Summer Reading List.   One of the 11 books on this list was Pinch Me: A Novel by Adena Halpern, which had just been released the previous day.   Here’s what we said about this unique fantasy novel:  “A young woman whose family has always warned her to stay away from perfectly handsome men receives a proposal of marriage from a man who is sadly ‘perfect’.”

Thanks to Touchstone Books, we have three (3) copies of Pinch Me to give away.   This trade paperback release has a value of $14.95.   Here is the official synopsis:

Pinch Me: A Novel, from the author of 29 (2010) and The Ten Best Days of My Life (2008), is about a woman who has the perfect life – until she discovers it has all been a dream.   Or has it?

“Never marry a man unless he’s short, bald, fat, stupid and treats you badly.”   That is the romantic advice that twenty-nine-year-old Lily Burns has heard her entire life from her grandmother, Dolly, and mother Selena.   Despite this, when she meets Gogo, the handsome, successful pediatrician who treats her like a queen, she has no choice but to let her heart take over.   When she agrees to marry him, Dolly and Selma are inconsolable.   They decide it’s time to tell her the truth: the women in her family are cursed.   If she marries for love, there will be unimaginable consequences.

Thinking she can somehow evade the curse that has plagued their lineage for generations, Lily elopes with Gogo.   Unable to believe her good fortune, she asks Gogo to pinch her to make sure this isn’t a dream.   The moment he does, Lily finds herself transported back to the house she lived in when she was single.   Gogo is gone.   It’s as if they never met.   When Lily tracks him down she finds that he’s married to someone else and has no memory of her.   In this reality, Gogo has none of his boyish charm, and instead of being a doctor, he sells drainpipes for a living.   Lily knows it’s up to her to save Gogo and return them both to the wedded bliss they were meant to have – but the only way to do that is to break the curse.

This sounds like a good one,doesn’t it?  

In order to enter this book giveaway, simply post your name and e-mail address below or send an e-mail with this information to Josephsreviews@gmail.com (e-mail addressses will only be used to contact the winners).   This will count as a first entry.   For a second entry, tell us what advice you received from your parents or family members while growing up…   Did it turn out to be good advice?

In order to be eligible for this particular contest, you must live in the continental United States, and be able to supply a residential mailing address if and when you are contacted.   Books will not be shipped to a P. O. box or to a business-related address.

You have until Midnight on Friday, August 26, 2011 to submit your entry or entries.   Be forewarned that we may decide to pull the winner’s names at random, or simply provide the books to the earliest entrants.   So much for the complex contest rules.   Good luck and good reading!  

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The Power of Love

One Day: A Novel by David Nicholls (Vintage Contemporaries, $14.95, 448 pages)

Twenty years.   Two people.   ONE DAY

“(She was) unable to recall a time when she felt happier.”

“…he is more or less where he wants to be…  Everything will be fine, just as long as nothing ever changes.”

Sometimes we need to wait until the right time to read a particular book.   I received a review copy of this novel, which had already become the #1 bestselling book in England and throughout most of Europe, in early 2010 (it was released in trade paper form in the U.S. on June 15, 2010).   But it didn’t strike me as something that urgently needed to be read…  That is, until I read that Anne Hathaway had agreed to play the female lead in the upcoming film version, with Jim Sturgess as the male lead.   Knowing that Hathaway has a skill for finding great scripts, I felt that the time had come.

This is the story of two people, Emma Morley and Dexter Mayhew, who meet cute on their graduation night (called “university graduation” in England) and spend the entire evening together.   They plan to commence a sexual relationship the next day; a plan which is forsaken due to some unexpected circumstances – something unexplained until the later pages of the story.   So, instead, they vow to be friends.   Dexter is to become Emma’s true male friend, but not boyfriend.

Nicholls tells the story, a very remarkable love story, by having us look in on the happenings of Emma’s and Dexter’s lives on the same date – July 15th – of each year.   The story begins on July 15, 1988, and concludes on July 15, 2007.   No spoiler alert is needed here, as no details will be revealed about what occurs to Emma and Dexter over the decades.   Let’s just say that the reader will be surprised.

I don’t want to play coy, so I will state that this is likely the best pure love story that I have read – it’s a tale that tugs at our heartstrings even while it makes us laugh.   And it will definitely bring tears prior to its dramatic and life-affirming ending.   It’s all the more remarkable that Nicholls, a man, writes with such a huge heart about life and love.

What can be revealed is that Emma and Dexter, despite their class differences (Dexter was born wealthy, Emma lower-middle class), know that they would be perfect for each other…  Maybe.   But each one faces too many temptations in the form of other people, and each thinks that the other wants different things out of life.   So despite their vow to be close forever, they begin to slide away from each other as they encounter life’s often not-so-gentle surprises.

“Everyone likes me.   It’s my curse.”

A few cautions…  Please disregard those who compare One Day to When Harry Met Sally (“Can a man and woman be best friends?”).   One Day is more adult and serious, and English humor is quite distinct from American humor; to me, it is, thankfully, more subtle.   That comparison caused me to hold off on reading this novel, which was unfortunate.   And if Dexter’s personality, early on, sounds a bit like Dudley Moore’s over-the-top character in the film Arthur, don’t worry, it will pass.   Dexter matures with age.

“…I can barely hear the compilation tape you made me which I like a lot incidentally except for that jangly indie stuff because after all I’m not a GIRL.”

There are many references to period music in the telling, which is both positive and not so positive.   (Emma can spend an entire day making the right mix tape.)   References to songs like “Tainted Love” make one smile; however, the numerous references to Madonna’s music wind up becoming painful in their datedness.

This is a novel that is stunning – so much so that on finishing it, I was both eager and fearful of reading it again one day.   (My response was to purchase the unabridged audiobook version, so that it’s there on the shelf if and when the urge strikes me to revisit it.)   This is simply a great story about two people who must decide which is better or worse:  the fear of confronting happiness, or the fear of never actually encountering it.   The message it delivers is a gift.   Please consider taking it.

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   “Big, absorbing, smart, fantastically readable.”   Nick Hornby   “A totally brilliant book…  Every reader will fall in love with it.”   Tony Parsons   “A wonderful, wonderful book: wise, funny, perceptive, compassionate…”   The Times (London)

One of the most hilarious and emotionally riveting love stories you’ll ever encounter.”   People

Note:  The film version of One Day will be released on August 19, 2011.

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Coming Up Next…

A review of One Day: A Novel by David Nicholls.

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