Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Compare and contrast

Compare and contrast. One famous film critic, Rex Reed (yes, such a person actually exists) last week named Manchester by the Sea (Kenneth Lonergan) his number one movie of 2016. And he listed La La Land (Damien Chazelle) number 10. I’d turn the list upside down, and jettison Manchester by the Sea altogether…..First, La La Land. This is an exhilarating comedy-drama the likes of which modern audiences haven’t seen, and you’d have to go back decades (the early 1960's anyway) to find such a film. That’s because it’s primarily a musical. From the opening scene, when drivers stuck in traffic get out of their cars and sing and dance, to umpteen other scenes where characters – mainly Ryan Gosling as Sebestian Wilder and Emma Stone as Mia Dolan – segue into melody, La La Land isn’t only a musical feast but combines the best of Hollywood’s epic themes – love, struggle, idealism, disappointment and triumph. The film’s dreamlike quality, compete with sound stages and animated backdrops right out of Singin’ in the Rain (Gene Kelly & Stanley Donen, 1952) and The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (Jacques Demy, 1964), is a joyful celebration of life and the power to dream. There isn’t a second wasted in this 128-minute offering, which traces the romance of Sebestian, a down and out jazz musician, and Emma, an equally struggling actress, who meet in classic Hollywood fashion (they rather hate each other) but whose idiosyncrasies draw them together. This is not just a musical but a dramatic feast, the songs and dances simply underlying the narrative, the same as all good musicals. A boon to the eyes and ears chances are you’ll come away immensely aesthetically satisfied.…..If only the same only be said for Manchester by the Sea. The film is getting raves, and one wonders why. Sure, Casey Affleck’s acting is superb and there are some decent supporting acts. But that’s about all. I was trying to avoid the film because I was turned off by the desultory narrative. And the film lived all the way down to my expectations. Affleck as Lee Chandler is, pure and simple, an asshole. But we never get to understand why. Sure, a devastating fire that kills two of his kids can lead to emotional shutdown. But he was like this before the fire happened. He’s unpleasant to those around him and picks fights for no reason. He hardly ever talks, and disdains personal engagement. So, what was Lonergan, a very famous playwright including of This Is Our Youth (1996), trying to say? Had there been more insight written into the characters and plot, maybe I could have understood it better. Otherwise, like Chandler himself, this film is stone cold.  

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