The title of this meta-comedy will be immediately recognizable to any avid fan of Damien Chazelle's film LA LA LAND. In the film, Mia Dolan, an aspiring actress played by Emma Stone (who won an Academy Award for her performance), writes herself a one-woman show called "So Long Boulder City" in a desperate attempt to boost her faltering career. Only 9 people show up - none of whom is her boyfriend Sebastian, played by Ryan Gosling. However, her ploy works out better than she ever expected, since one of the attendees is a high-powered casting agent.
All of this is such far-fetched nonsense - as I wrote about in one of my first columns for this website - that it seems to be crying out for lampooning, and this show by Jimmy Fowlie and Jordan Black more than fills the bill. While not everything works, the parts that are funny are howlingly so - as in one bit that features Abraham Lincoln's niece. Personally, I could see anothere way to go with this parody, that would hone closer to the character of Mia Dolan and evoke Ms Stone's performance more acutely. But this broadly farcical approach works too, and Mr Fowlie is a hoot as an untalented LA actress who is too in love with herself and her "dreams" to even notice how terrible a performer she really is.
I highly recommend this if you want to laugh your ass off at one-person shows in general and at the LA entertainment industry scene in particular. But it's better if you know the source material well - or can go with someone who does.
The fun continues at Celebration Theatre until November 6th. But if it keeps selling out the house, as it's been doing... do I hear extension?
As usual, there's so much going on in the SoCal area this weekend, including a dangerous fire (try to avoid that). For those who want a memorable experience at the theater, here are 3 options - all have some humor in them, though only one is a laugh out-loud comedy.
George Wyner and Richard Fancy are brothers in "Daytona". Photo: John Perrin Flynn
There are so many great older actors in Los Angeles, and far too few plays that really give them anything to perform. But Daytona at Roguemachine has three terrific roles, which are inhabited to the hilt by George Wyner and Sharron Shayne as a long-married couple and Richard Fancy as Mr Wyner's long-absent brother, under the pitch-perfect direction of Elina de Santos. The play takes place in Brooklyn in 1986, where Joe and Elli are preparing for their dance competition the next evening, a hobby they've cultivated for the past 15 years. Then Elli goes out to pick up her dress from her sister, where she will also spend the night. Suddenly the downstairs buzzer sounds. Joe is shocked to hear the voice of his brother Billy, who he hasn't heard from for the past 30 years, and whose entrance will shake up the easy-going world of Joe and Elli. I completely agree with Kathleen Foley's review in the LA Times that the play has some major problems, most of which crop up in the Second Act, when the writing begins to waver and drift. But, as Ms. Foley asserts, the actors couldn't be better, and their moment-to-moment character work is thrilling to watch. Certainly Richard Fancy - who I've seen in numerous shows at Pacific Resident Theatre and elsewhere around town - has never seemed more focused and relaxed, having the time of his life. This is a play and a production that will likely stay in your mind long after the houselights have come up.
UPDATE: DAYTONA has to close earlier than expected, on Monday October 16, but Roguemachine is looking to move and reopen it, so your support is essential.
Karen Finley in the The Expanded Unicorn Gratitude Mystery (Photo: Carolina Restrepo)
Karen Finley, the author and performer of the one woman show at the Redcat in DTLA for this weekend only, is herself something of a unicorn on the American performance art scene, part stand-up comic, part Oracle at Delphi. She came to public prominence in the early 1980s as one of the NEA 4 - 4 performance artists of highly political and controversial works who had received grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, much to the disgust of conservative senator Jesse Helms. She has continued to develop her work far out of the mainstream (by choice), using sexual imagery in unexpected ways (just google "Finley yams" and "Finley chocolate" for more detailed accounts) to bring attention to the glorification of rape and other acts of misogyny in the central nervous system of American life. Pretty much alone among her peers, she has managed to maintain her integrity and develop her metaphors in a series of performance art pieces and books and recordings. That alone would provide a good reason to catch her new show at Redcat, if you can still score a ticket. But this is something different than I've seen from Ms. Finley before. (I caught both her yam and her chocolate performances.) There is no nudity this time - that's a first, at least in my limited experience. There are three sections to her performance, and the first two are funnier than anything I've seen from her. These satirize American consumerism and American politics, respectively. In the political section, she takes on Hillary Clinton, Trump and their campaigns, to devestating effect. The third (and most powerful) section is Karen Finley being Karen Finley - dispensing with the clown costumes and the wigs and assuming the role of Cassandra the Seer, peering poetically into the darkness of the American soul. What she sees is dark indeed - a hollowness which has to be filled up with things, a death-wish that yearns for mass destruction. Her performance is so dense with references and layers of meaning that it is difficult to take in in one sitting. On the other hand, who knows when you'll get another chance?
Jimmy Fowlie as Mia Dolan at the Celebration Theatre
The title of this meta-comedy will be immediately recognizable to any avid fan of Damien Chazelle's film LA LA LAND. In the film, Mia Dolan, an aspiring actress played by Emma Stone (who won an Academy Award for her performance), writes herself a one-woman show called "So Long Boulder City" in a desperate attempt to boost her faltering career. Only 9 people show up - none of whom is her boyfriend Sebastian, played by Ryan Gosling. However, her ploy works out better than she ever expected, since one of the attendees is a high-powered casting agent. All of this is such far-fetched nonsense - as I wrote about in one of my first columns for this website - that it seems to be crying out for lampooning, and this show by Jimmy Fowlie and Jordan Black more than fills the bill. While not everything works, the parts that are funny are howlingly so - as in one bit that features Abraham Lincoln's niece. Personally, I could see anothere way to go with this parody, that would hone closer to the character of Mia Dolan and evoke Ms Stone's performance more acutely. But this broadly farcical approach works too, and Mr Fowlie is a hoot as an untalented LA actress who is too in love with herself and her "dreams" to even notice how terrible an actress she really is. I highly recommend this if you want to laugh your ass off at one-person shows in general and at the LA entertainment industry scene in particular. But it's better if you know the source material well - or can go with someone who does.
HIPSTER BLAST FROM THE PAST: 25 years ago, the Twisted Hipster had a play running Off-Broadway that got 17 rave reviews, including from the NY Times. He got a call to come pitch movie ideas to Dustin Hoffman, at that time the Hipster's favorite actor, who had won the Oscar for Rain Man just a few years before. He quickly concocted four stories with lead roles that Dustin could play. The Hipster and Dustin were the only ones in the room - a surprise. Dustin liked one story and hired the Hipster to develop it for his company Punch Productions - then left to make two movies back to back (Outbreak and American Buffalo). Punch was run by the playwright Murray Schisgal, who was one of three writers credited with authoring Tootsie (Academy Award nomination) ten years before. Murray kept urging the Hipster to make his screenplay more like Basic Instinct, a big hit at the time, famous to this day for Sharon Stone's vag flash. The Hipster resisted, but he wanted Dustin to make his movie, so he eventually caved. Soon Dustin returned, read what the Hipster had written and called for a meeting, attended by Murray too. Dustin to Hipster: "I don't know, it reminds me a lot of something I've seen before." Murray: "It's a lot like Basic Instinct, right?" Dustin: "Jesus, I hope not, I hated that movie." Oh shit.
Damien Chazelle has said that his primary goal in LA LA LAND was to recreate the Hollywood Musical for the modern age. And there's no doubt that he has succeeded to a large degree, at least in commercial terms, which (let's face it) is Hollywood's favorite term. (Worldwide gross to this point is over $400,000.)
While LA LA LAND famously did not win Best Picture, Emma Stone won Best Actress for her portrayal of struggling Hollywood actress/barista Mia Dolan. But how do actual Hollywood actresses feel about Emma/Mia and about Chazelle's depiction of their struggle? And what about Mia's one-woman show, So Long, Boulder City?
In the last posting of this column, three different actresses presented three very different viewpoints. Here are several more, which, again, are presented unedited. To quote a great playwright, "Attention must be paid." And keep reading. Who knows, maybe you'll run into someone you know.
Total BS -- Her ONE WOMAN SHOW -- sorry sister, but anyone with roommates does not have the money to rent a beautiful 99 seat theater to "put on a run of my show" ....Totally fake. No way. How about the posters, staff, lighting, set, props, tickets...and with no job -they needed to show her have a national commercial running and getting residual checks or something practical. Ridic!...it completely made the reason she was "discovered" ring false for the entirety due to the fact that show never happened -- Emma did an excellent job at trying to buy it herself though.
Many of my actress friends didn't feel it spoke to them, but having been a person who was more or less "discovered" doing a show I wrote for myself in the theater, it made me very nostalgic. I, too, was the girl that flew home thinking my career was over, only to be summoned back when my theater company decided to do this show. I, too, have been the odd girl out at those fancy house parties in the Hills when I was trying to figure out how to get a foot in the door. My experiences in Casting Director offices haven't been quite as harsh as what Emma Stone's character went through, but I understand that some of those scenes were based on her experiences. Of course it was a fantasy version of Hollywood, but it reminded me of what can make the town seem magical. Most people don't experience the success that this character eventually achieves, so I can see where it could leave a bitter taste in the mouth of some people who are still figuring out how to even get an audition. But for me, it was a nice reminder of how hopeful I felt years ago when I moved to LA from Louisiana, not knowing a single person, because that dream seemed achievable
I definitely related to the scene where she's in Nevada saying that maybe she would never make it and that acting for her was a pipe dream... I think all LA actresses feel that way now and again. Working on the WB lot is a coveted gig so it's funny to me that it was portrayed as a "down and out" job. It was miraculously Hollywood that her first attempt to produce her own play was seen and from there she made it big, that would be the best case scenario. But all of that is more a critique of how removed the writer/director is from the reality of trying to make it in LA. I am biased because I like Emma as an actress and I thought she did great. I have always favored acting ability over a voice. Working in this industry is an emotional roller coaster, and this film was more of a throwback to the old school movie musicals versus a commentary on how being an actor in LA actually is.
So here are my thoughts on Mia in "La La Land". First off, very relatable. I too am an actress by trade, barista by day (one of many jobs), so the first time we see her at work interacting with the "famous actress" and her boss etc., it really hit home for me in a big way. In turn, when the roles were reversed in the end and they showed a nearly identical shot with Mia as the successful actress interacting with the barista in that same shop I was nearly brought to tears out of sheer hope and encouragement and excitement. It was my favorite moment of the film.
The many auditions Mia goes on were relatable in the sense that they are often interrupted, extremely short, etc. And the office settings were pretty accurate it seemed as well. She must have an awfully good agent though to be going out as often as she does, which is never really touched on but I guess that is ok.....
The big "Audition" number/scene was annoying to me though. First of all, I'm sorry but what casting director is magically going to get in touch with some girl who put on a poorly advertised, one night show and all of a sudden provide this enormous opportunity - and have no sides at all (even if the script isn't done, wouldn't she still read something?) and the way she just stood there so meekly like a deer in headlights - she was so dull! She just stood there awkwardly and told this story, and now all of a sudden she books this one job and becomes a full blown movie star? I recognize that there is probably more implied, I'm sure one job led to the next etc, but the way it all happens is just so far fetched from reality. Sidebar - the casting associate calls her boyfriend as a secondary number to get hold of her? Hello.... If she's going on all those auditions (including/especially the TV show audition) as I mentioned previously she MUST have an agent! Why wouldn't they call the agent to begin with? And if she doesn't have one, she wouldn't be going out for TV shows. Just saying.
Overall I really enjoyed La La Land. I appreciate the genre of movie musicals coming back onto the radar in such a big way. I think it was well done and a really lovely film. I think it would be interesting to hear the music performed with stronger singers though... But in some ways Emma Stone's mediocre voice actually kind of worked for her character. It wasn't bad, it was just... fine. Honestly the thing that impressed me the most in the whole film was Ryan Gosling's piano skills, but I suppose that's a whole other subject entirely.
Even through these very large stretches from reality made certain aspects of the film a little hard to buy, it still captured the essence of what it is like to be a struggling artist with a big dream and tangible goals, and for that I am very appreciative. In a lot of ways I feel like my life was captured in this magical, musical form. Non-actor friends were able to catch a glimpse into what my life as an actor is like. I only hope that one day that stroke of magic and luck hits my career, and that I team up with an agent as hard-working and impressive as Mia's invisible one.
The early scenes in the movie certainly are familiar to any actress who auditions in Los Angeles. Overworked casting directors often do eat, text/email on phones/computers, barely glance up, allow interruptions by associates, all while the actor is opening her heart and doing her best to play with a reader who has no connection to the material. It does hurt. It is humiliating. It's what we do.
And we do what Mia did. We use our imaginations to persevere, believing in a future that won't hurt us or humiliate us if we work hard enough, meet the right people, generate some luck. We go on. We do our best. We dream.
Until it hurts too much. Until it's not worth it anymore. Until we give all we have to give and decide to give up.
Mia's dream to produce and star in her own play? Not surprising that she didn't think it was really possible before Sebastian made the suggestion. She's a “girl.” She's young. She has time. She can wait. Actors feel powerless in the business of acting. Not my responsibility if I don't work – I can blame “them.” Some even believe, “If my dreams don't come true, I can do something else.” Some can. Many of us can't.
I produced and starred in a play I wrote last fall. Hard? Yes. Exciting? Yes. Crazy? No. It took me over 25 years of working regularly in this business before I was ready to put myself out in that way. It proved to be empowering, fun (sometimes) and very well received. Unlike Mia's play.
Skip to the end of the movie and Mia becomes a star in five years? OK, eleven counting the six years spent auditioning. That's fantasy for most actors. But Mia and Sebastian both realize their dreams – she's a successful actor and he owns a jazz club. But these dreams may never have happened without the gift of each other. Being together forever was the dream that didn't come true.
TRACY ANN CHAPEL
I have had auditions where people were on the phone talking the whole time while I was emoting my best work! The role was very realistic. I can also say that lots of us dream of doing our own "one woman show." The relationship where a musician leaves an actress because they can't commit and live in different cities is spot on. I was in one just like that for years. We finally had to break -up. He now lives in San Francisco and I in LA. The distance is still to far our lives now are so different. We get together once and a while. And because he was there when I was starting out; he takes a big place in my (heart) life. I will never forget him. In fact, I called him up and told him to see the film. He did, and I asked him did you see us? and he said "Yes."
I really enjoyed La La Land for a nice romanticized version of what happens in L.A. I thought some things they touched on were definitely similar like putting a lot of effort into a show or project and having no one come and see it. Going to auditions where it seems like they could care less if you're there or not with a bunch of girls who seem like a better version of you. A lot of people definitely think there are some things wrong with it like being plucked from obscurity and starring in a feature film. It does seem far fetched to me as well but I feel like this is a town where anything can happen and maybe it might not be to that extent but it's nice to think it's possible!
I loved the movie as fluff fantasy and never thought it purported to represent reality beyond the notion that few find success in Hollywood. To probe too deeply is to ask why Bambi talks or how it was that Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang could fly.
Whether the arc of the Emma Stone character is a true depiction of what happens to a real actress coming to tinsel town? The answer is no for several reasons: Most aspiring actresses don't dance and don't sing and if they do either, they don't do it on pavement in the Hollywood hills. Most don't get gigs based on only telling a story after having been seen in a self-produced show in Santa Monica by just the right casting agent (do CDs even go to one person self-produced shows? NO). Most actresses don't have multi-ethnic roommates with just the right primary color dress to present a rainbow coalition while dancing and singing their way to a party. On the other hand, the asshole giving the party was very real. But I digress. The movie was not a documentary and shouldn't be judged on the reality spectrum.
Well, over the holidays, my daughters and my husband and I were picking a film to see, and when we finally settled on LA LA LAND, my elder daughter declined. "I'm so not in the mood for a heteronormative romantic fantasy," were her exact words. So we went without her, but her description was just so apt it kind of was ruining the film for me. (Just desserts: I used to assure them when they were little and something scary happened in a film, that I was friends with the bad guy and he was actually very sweet, and they would yell at me that I was always ruining scary movies.)Anyway, this was at the Landmark. There was a bomb scare about 20 minutes before the end of the film, the whole theatre was evacuated, and we never went back to see the end.
As for my take as a film actor who also does theatre in LA, well, the idea that a casting director would bother seeing theatre, even less actually cast someone who wasn't setting the town on fire, is hilarious.
I guess it's the point--a fantasy--but it seems cruel in a way.
I think every actress in LA can relate to pouring your heart into an audition and being cut off halfway through or being briskly told “THANKS” after barely finishing your last word. It's a particularly cruel, time-driven industry where if you haven't performed the exact way the director wants you to or if the day is running late or the casting director is in a bad mood because they haven't eaten lunch, they can shuffle you out without a single comment. And even if you understand this and know it's “just business,” it's not personal, there is something heartbreaking about baring your soul over and over (as you must do in every audition) just to be told, in one of a myriad of ways, "no.”
I think it's easy to fall into the trap of going to parties with the hopes of being ‘discovered' or meeting someone who might change the path of your career. Especially when you are new to the city. I think every actress can attest to that. And for the most part, those parties are full of douche-bags who have no desire to help you. On the contrary they will use you and take from you whatever it is that they can. At the same time, I have met multiple wonderful directors, writers, managers, agents and producers at parties and had fascinating conversations. Years later we are still friends, although more often acquaintances and in a few instances I have ended up working with them. Though this was further down the road and not an instant route to anything.
I think that another truthful element in Emma Stone's character's experience is that of taking her fate into her own hands with her one woman play. And I feel that it was poetic that this, albeit badly attended and reviewed, performance is what led to her big break. So many actors take the well trodden route of getting an agent, auditioning and waiting for the phone to ring (or the email to ping.) But I feel that an alternate, more empowering route to success is through creating your own work. I, myself, produced and starred in a play in London and have written, produced and sold my web series GIRLS LIKE MAGIC. I also have three features which I have written in various stages of development with myself attached to star. Whether or not this will lead to my ‘big break', I don't know, but at least I'm taking matters into my own hands and creating something.
One thing that a lot of actors took issue with [in LA LA LAND] was how easy it was for Emma Stone's character to ‘make it' when she eventually did break through. Now I can't personally attest to how truthful that is, as I'm not at that stage in my career but I'm hopeful that yes - all it takes is that ONE role. I've seen it happen to many of my friends and as long as I'm in this game, I've got a shot at it happening to me.
The main thing I think about Mia in Lala land - was that she never stuck me as that good of an actor....
And so it also felt a bit sad to me that she ended up "making it " because I think the movie could have rewarded a character who maybe was a better performer.
In terms of her life- I loved all of the moments she had in audition rooms, but I do think it was a glamorized version of the truth. Most of the actors I know spend more time trying to get into rooms than actually in them auditioning.... it would have been interesting to see her do this rather than just get cut off mid sentence.
Hey there! Despite the fact that they hired non actors/singers for a musical (hello Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady and Natalie Wood in West Side Story), I thought it was fluffy, but fun. I'm not a fan of the "starving artist" mentality. I will not buy you a drink cuz you be broke cuz your "agent isn't working for you." Most actors, and the ones in the movie, are educated and it's a lifestyle choice. Figure out a way to support yourself. Know the ride you're getting on. It's a struggle. We all know this. But we CHOSE IT. That being said, I felt their relationship was sweet as it developed, but what got me was the scene where Emma goes to the John Legend concert to see Ryan play. It's packed. It's huge. They're rock stars. Its a BIG FUCKING DEAL. And instead of wrapping her arms around him and fucking him all night, she says he's a sell out, and is disappointed. Hated that part. Of course it's not the jazz he was used to playing, but being on Full House gives you the ability to be in The Squid and The Whale for scale. It's not a sell out. Going back to my previous point, you do what you have to do to get the funds to create art. You can't do a goddamn thing but pontificate if you're broke. That John Legend tour would've given Ryan's character the credibility, exposure, and financial means to facilitate both his and her dreams, and her myopic approach and inability to see that was a real hole in her character. Would I play in a shitty band and travel the world if it put half a mill in my pocket? You're goddamn right I would. Would I come home and produce a play that's not a comedy...the hardest to produce and get made...you're goddamn right I would! Does that make me a sellout? Fuck no. It makes me an astute businesswoman. And that's a fact Jack.
HIPSTER TIP OF THE WEEK: Do not miss PLASTICITY by Alex Lyras at the Hudson Guild Theatre. I beg to differ with Lovel Estell III for his prickly and nit-picky Stage Raw review of a show that has the best visual scheme and the most of on its mind of anything the Hipster has seen on LA small stages in recent memory. Yes, it's true, the author has bit off more than he can satisfactorily chew - or, better metaphor, his reach does exceed his grasp -- but the author/performer's layered investigation of the human brain's complexity is fascinating in its many tangents, and the way it compares the intricacy of the brain to that of the cosmos. I hope that Mr. Lyras continues to develop his flawed but intriguing script with his brilliant collaborators, co-writer/director Robert McCaskill and video artist Corwin Evans. Don't let small-minded reviewers make your decisions for you. The show has just been extended - check out www.plasticitytheplay.com for tickets and info.
(And don't forget, I can always be reached with any questions or comments HERE.)
Last week I posted a piece about the film La La Land and its less than believable thread about Mia Dolan (Emma Stone) writing, producing and performing a one-woman show in North Hollywood. (I hope everyone clicked on the link to the AV Club's take on the subject - hilarious!) Anyway, it occurred to me that I'd like to hear what actual LA-based actresses thought of Mia Dolan's journey.
I put out the word to a few actresses I've worked with and to Facebook Friends, and eventually I received so many responses that I'm going to post a second installment with as many comments as I can fit. It's my personal belief that being a professional actress is one of the most difficult possible endeavors. That's not true for every actress, of course, but those who want to put heart and soul on the line and achieve an individual destiny -- as Emma Stone's character does in the film -- face untold numbers of obstacles. Here then are three very different (and very unedited) views of very real Mia Dolans - Kaitlyn Fae Fajilan, Tamika Katon-Donegal and Jenny Lerner.
KAITLYN FAE FAJILAN
So here's my take on Emma Stone's character in La La Land:
It boggled my mind how accurate the way auditioning for roles in LA was portrayed. When I saw the film, I kept turning to my friend and whispering furiously, "OH MY GOD, THAT IS SO TRUE." From getting honked at for practicing lines while stuck in traffic, to trying her best not to get her hopes up after an audition, Mia's pain was frighteningly relatable. Each time she had to rush out in order to make an audition, I nodded and thought to myself, "Been there." When she goes straight home and face plants into her bed after a failed audition, my heart sank for her. I said aloud, "I totally know that feeling!"
There are two lines in particular Mia utters in the film that really rang true for me:
The first is when she said (something to the effect of): "It sucks walking out and seeing all the other auditioners who are better looking and probably more talented than me." MAN. That one hit home. It can get so daunting at auditions, looking around and seeing everyone who appears much more suited to the role than you. It gets especially hard as a person of color trying to make it in an industry where minorities often get overlooked in favor of more "traditional" casting. I've literally had an acting teacher tell me that casting directors would consider me "non traditional" purely based off my race.
The second is when she nearly gives up on acting altogether after her one-woman play tanks. She tearfully tells Ryan Gosling "I'm tired of embarrassing myself." She took the words right out of my mouth. So many times have I walked out of an audition or acting class and thought, "Who do I think I am? I'm just making a fool of myself." It can get really, really disheartening, and I thought Emma Stone portrayed that aspect very well.
Thoughts on La La Land
I found Emma Stone's character Mia to have a career and opportunities that not many LA actresses, ESPECIALLY actresses of color, have. For example, when I audition there aren't usually a room of Black actresses with curly blonde hair auditioning for the same part. It's like the UN; Asian, Latina, and Black women are all up for the same one line:
“Here's your gelato.”
At this phase in my career, I'm not auditioning for a variety of types either. It's usually: bitchy assistant, quirky best friend, or cop. (I no longer have a go-to prostitute outfit so I guess I've phased out of those types auditions.)
Finally, I've never experienced casting directors to be anything but polite and generous. If they are direct, or to the point, it's because I understand they have a job to do! It's my hope that I can make their search much easier!
First, a little bit about me: I'm an actress in my late twenties, working 2 office jobs and some babysitting gigs on the weekends to pay rent around the theatre and tv jobs I (sometimes/seldom/will someday have more) get. I'm a member of the New American Theatre Company in LA and love acting and singing. After writing this, I will leave my day job and go straight to singing class.
So, here's what I think "La La Land" got right: most of the audition scenes. I loved Mia's auditions for the cop or the teacher roles where she's dressed in a police uniform or as a teacher doing certain prototype guest star "type parts". I thought that was really real. And we've all been on those stereotypical auditions for the medical show, crime drama, etc. where you're clearly the suspicious person throwing off the detectives before we find who the real criminal is. And I also appreciated the moments where the casting directors are talking to each other and reading over her resume instead of really paying attention to her audition. These are all things that have happened to me on the regular. Even the casting director talking to someone else through the door during that intimate scene rang true. People in the audience seemed shocked when they saw that. I wasn't.
BUT they lost me at the one woman show and everything that comes after it. I understand this movie is about the "ones who dream" and leaps of faith. BUT her one person show: we see her designing costumes, and writing it and working on the sets leading up to it, but we never see one moment of this (supposedly) incredible one woman show (based on her experience growing up in Nevada or where the fuck was it? How is it supposed to be ground-breaking? Is it?). We see her walk on stage to a small audience and walk off. And when she walks off, people say it was awful. Shouldn't we know about her amazing concept or writing or acting which landed her the job of a lifetime?
It is very difficult getting casting directors, agents, managers to see any theatre in LA. I am currently working with my company on this very issue. I am currently trying to figure out how to bribe family members (short of giving blood) to get them to ask industry members they know to come see some new theatre we're doing in a couple months. People do drop offs to casting offices, print flyers, send emails, make phone calls. I'll be working on these pitches for weeks and will be lucky if 1 out of the 50-100 casting directors/agents/managers my team of actors contact will come. We're supposed to believe Mia's mass email got this casting director to come out? Yeah, okay.
So next, she goes into the life-changing audition with her boyfriend in tow, which by the way, let's talk about that. I guess Sebastian comes for added bravery or moral support. Cute and romantic and all, but adult actresses go alone to auditions most of the time, right? Unless you're underage and need your parents to drive you, you go to your auditions alone. I don't think I'd want my boyfriend to come with me to my auditions. My therapist, maybe, but my boyfriend, no.
That's not even the issue though. If I remember correctly, the casting director doesn't even know the plot of the movie except that it will be built around the right actress (?) and shoots in Paris for a few months. Okay. How did this movie get funded? THAT DOES NOT HAPPEN. I WISH IT DID AND THE INDUSTRY WAS COLLABORATIVE LIKE THAT AND WE COULD ALL GO TO PARIS AND CREATE MAGNIFICENT, DEEP ART IN A SYMBIOTIC AND FREE WAY AND EAT CHOCOLATE CROISSANTS BUT THAT DOESN'T HAPPEN. Or if it does, someone get me into the room where it happens.
I thought it was realistic and great that she and Sebastian didn't get together in the end and I guess this movie doesn't strive for realism. I should know that because of the dancing across the night sky at the Griffith Observatory etc, but it just seemed like parts of the movie aimed for truth and other parts...what are you doing LA LA LAND? Which brings me to....That apartment? For 4 or 5 girls or whatever it was with tons of space and old-Hollywood rooms? How much money are these baristas making? Change that apartment to a POS in the Valley and two girls are sharing a room and let's talk.
Also, did she get fired from her barista job? I don't remember. But she was late a lot.
No shade to Emma Stone. She's a great actress. But any actor, really struggling, with their heart in the game, pounding the pavement would have seen "La La Land" and hated that. Most of my friends did. More troubling: does this movie give my non-industry friends, colleagues and frenemy that I will inevitably run into at my high school reunion the impression that it's only a matter of time until someone "discovers" me and I go to Paris for a few months and come back a movie star? Sounds great, but I fear that everyone but my frenemy is in for some bitter disappointment on that score. They'll conclude that I must not be very good since that hasn't happened to me yet, and come on, do we really think that's fair?
Also I didn't like the singing, but that just seems petty at this point.
I promise I'm a lot nicer when it comes to non-"La La Land" things and perhaps its hard for me because this is a world I'm so close to. But that's just it: I so wanted this to be my story. It could have been and I went in thinking it would be, but it wasn't. I wanted to fully feel this film and let the characters get under my skin. There were times in the theatre that I felt my experience as an actress totally echoed back to me, but mostly it just made me super angry. I won't be singing "City of Stars" at my next audition. But let's face it, if my manager gets me an audition for [the inevitable] "La La Land" the musical, I'll probably go. I need the exposure.
In a recent interview, Damien Chazelle (Director of “La La Land”), said that his initial impression of Los Angeles being a cultural vacuum changed after he moved here from the East Coast. He found that LA is a fascinating city, rich in history and beautiful. Thanks to the methodically creative compositions of Justin Hurwitz, the original soundtrack of “La La Land” is a splendid mix of memorable award-winning music. The film “La La Land” is a musical love letter to Los Angeles and is shining a beacon on jazz music.
In “La La Land,” the character Keith (John Legend) critically lectures Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) in a scene at a recording studio; “How are you gonna save jazz if no one is listening? … You're playing to 90-year-olds at The Lighthouse. Where are the kids… the young people? ... You're holding onto the past, but jazz is about the future.” Jazz is a true American art form that began in New Orleans during the 1800's and is an evolutionary music genre, from which many of the popular genres we listen to today have developed. Even in “La La Land” John Legend's character Keith combines jazz with modern electronic pop music to appeal to a younger and bigger music buying audience.
Once upon a time, Los Angeles was all about West Coast jazz and there were many clubs all over the city and adjacent neighborhoods. The Sunset Strip had so many jazz clubs back in the early 1950's that you could park your car in one spot and walk to a choice of several clubs to hear live jazz within a four block radius. Hermosa Beach (20 miles southwest of Downtown LA) has been home to The Lighthouse Café jazz club since 1949 and was featured in “La La Land” as a location and important character of its own as part of the story. The ninety-year-old that Keith refers to in the scene I noted is Gloria Cadena (91) who is the jazz booker for The Lighthouse Café. In the past, jazz was played there seven nights a week, but in recent years Gloria books jazz bands only on Wednesday nights and Saturday and Sunday afternoons. To attract more customers to the club on the other nights, local bands and artists that play music from rock to reggae are booked through another manager at The Lighthouse Café. Gloria's late husband, Ozzie Cadena, was a jazz record producer and promoter in Los Angeles. He promoted The Lighthouse and is credited with helping to popularize jazz in Los Angeles.
Since “La La Land” was released in early December 2016, The Lighthouse Café has become a popular destination for tourists, fans and locals alike. Just about a month before this phenomenon occurred, Mark Sonners opened his art gallery, Gallery Exposure, in the front portion of his fine art printing company, Print and Show. His gallery and shop are located in the quaint Old Town Village in Torrance, California about four miles southeast of Hermosa Beach where The Lighthouse Cafe sits. Mark Sonners has been very successful in the commercial printing business for many years, but after the Northridge earthquake destroyed his shop and the rise of digital image formats and decline in the traditional printing, he moved from the San Fernando Valley to the South Bay region of LA and settled in Hermosa Beach, just a few blocks from The Lighthouse Café and was delighted to have a club where he could enjoy live jazz. When he lived in the SFV, he used to be a regular at jazz clubs like Charlie O's, Dante's (both closed) and occasionally The Baked Potato which is still there.
Being an ardent jazz fan and photographer, Mark began taking pictures of the brilliant jazz players who perform at The Lighthouse and got to know Gloria Cadena and saw the legendary Howard Rumsey (bassist) who started playing jazz with his band at The Lighthouse in 1949. Mark's knowledge of jazz from its roots through its evolution into many new music styles is only exceeded by his passion for jazz music itself. His photography exhibit reflects his love for jazz played at The Lighthouse Café.
The Lighthouse – café was added to the name of the club many years later – was a very important establishment in West Coast jazz with famous players like Miles Davis, Ramsey Lewis, Art Pepper, Shorty Rogers, Mose Allison, Stan Getz, The Jazz Crusaders, Cal Tjder, and more. These artists I listed all recorded live albums there. Mark Sonners has been snapping the current players at The Lighthouse and his show is a reflection of the club today. Also showing at Gallery Exposure are some select prints from photographer Chuck Koton who has dedicated the last fifteen years to documenting jazz musicians with his photography.
Mark Sonners, jazz musicians, fans and I would love to see a resurgence of the popularity of jazz, particularly West Coast jazz. When Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) declared to Mia (Emma Stone) that jazz was dying he wasn't kidding. In America, the land of its birth, jazz clubs are closing and becoming other types of venues; jazz radio stations are switching their format to other genres, and even at the
Grammys, the jazz categories of awards are not televised. Gregory Porter won his second Grammy Award for Jazz Vocal Album of the Year in 2017 for “Take Me To The Alley” and he happens to be a Californian. His first Grammy Award was in 2014 for “Liquid Spirit.” Yet Gregory Porter was not part of the live performances during the televised Grammy Awards. None of the jazz nominees performed for the “main” show. Al Jarreau passed away on the day of the Grammy Awards and he was barely mentioned during the live show. Music fans in other countries like Japan, Italy, Germany and The Netherlands seem to revere jazz more than we do and they keep it alive. Young jazz musicians from those countries make their way to the USA thinking that jazz still thrives here, but find themselves among a minority of young people who appreciate and know the rich history of jazz in America.
If “La La Land” has sparked a renewed interest in jazz and a curiosity among Millennials to listen and learn about it then let the spark burst into a flame that will help save jazz in the USA. So far, the multi-award winning film has shined a beacon on The Lighthouse Café and people are following the beam of light to the club to hear jazz in numbers they haven't seen there in years. If the crowds continue Gloria might be able to book jazz artists there more than three days a week and attract the big names in jazz to play there again. The Lighthouse can also help guide music fans from all over America to have an interest in West Coast jazz and recognize it for the revolutionary and evolutionary cultural art form that it is. That is the La La Land dream for this LA native and many other dedicated jazz lovers.
Love it, hate it or feel indifferent about it, Damien Chazelle's film La La Land is more than just a movie for those of us in the arts living in the Hollywood area. Dealing as it does with the unexpected and yet somehow inevitable love affair between two aspiring artists, a jazz pianist (Sebastion) and an actress (Mia), La La Land uses the landscape and the reality of the world in which we live here to spin elaborate romantic fantasies about the vagaries of fate. That is, as we pursue the fulfillment of our professional hopes and dreams, is there indeed a destiny that can be achieved by persistence and hard work, or it all simply the luck of the draw, with very little regard for talent or deserving?
After having watched the movie twice and read the published screenplay - which is significantly different in some crucial respects from the film -- I do feel a lot of admiration for what the 31 year old Mr. Chazelle was able to accomplish. He has a great sense of rhythm, pace and visual imagination - qualities he also displayed in his earlier film, Whiplash. He's a sharp observer of nuance between characters - take a close look at that scene between Sebastian and his older sister (Laura), where we learn everything we need to know about Seb in a scene that never stops moving forward -- as well as the nuance of the entertainment industry itself, veering between documentary-like depictions (those heartless casting sessions) and tongue-in-cheek lampooning (the "hot" screenwriter, Carlo, who is starting a franchise based on the Goldilocks story written as a home-invasion thriller.) More than that, this guy can write some multi-faceted dialogue, even when it comes to diehard romantic conventions. It's harder to appreciate out of context, but take a look at this exchange early on when Seb helps Mia try to track down where her car is parked:
MIA: Strange that we keep running into each other.
SEB: It is strange. Maybe it means something.
MIA: I doubt it.
SEB: Yeah, I don't think so either.
These lines give Gosling and Stone so much to work with as they navigate the perilous tightrope of attraction. Such a nice sense of spontaneity without ever forcing the characters to talk about how difficult it is to trust each other. Add to this the visual excitement he stirs up in La La Lands's first and last 10 minutes - each as pleasurable a piece of pure filmmaking as any American film in recent memory -- and there is no overstating it. This guy's got game.
There are, however, two things in this admirable film that I have to take issue with -- one of which goes back directly to the La La Land that we live in, and something that I don't think Mr. Chazelle accurately captured.
Okay, and this is where I guess should say that warning, something of a hallmark of our times: SPOILER ALERT! As if you who have followed me this far wouldn't have figured out by now that I'm going to be discussing this film in some depth. But the last thing I want is even one reader lying awake at night, quaking with anger at having some surprise spoiled. The essence of life is surprise - find it wherever you can, keep it close to your heart.
One of the hardest things about writing that ventures into the world of romance -- especially hetero romance -- is being equally fair to both characters. The terrain of love/relationships is so littered with emotional, political and neurotic minefields -- well, I think we all get the perils, especially when a man is doing the writing. In my (admittedly male) opinion, I think the young Mr. Chazelle acquits himself pretty well. Sebastian and Mia both seem like recognizable inhabitants of SoCal, the kind of folks who slave away at demanding and often demeaning jobs while waiting for their lives to take off.
What I have trouble with, though - and where I think that La La Land goes slightly off the rails - is in Mia's decision to write a one-woman show for herself. In fact, it's not even Mia's idea to do it - she takes her cue from Sebastian telling her that's what she should be doing, based on Mia's having told him that she used to make up stories and act them out when she was a kid. Huh? Say what?
Hey, take it from this Twisted Hipster - a veteran of 25 years in New York theater and 20 years in Los Angeles theater -- it's HARD to write a good play, much less a good full-length one person show. HARD. Just because you made up little skits when you were a kid doesn't mean you have what it takes to command a stage for 70 minutes. And there's nothing in Mia's personality or life experience to make us believe she can do it. (She's not an introvert, not a word person, not a great storyteller.) It kind of makes sense that Sebastian suggests it -- he wants her to be special and believes she can do anything! And it kind of makes sense that Mia would take a shot at it, wanting to please him, to live up to this crazy idea he has of her. But there's no way she would go through with it. No way. She's too smart to court such certain disaster. And her friends would head her off at the pass, they would sit her down and tell her: girl, what are you thinking? You don't have the chops to write a good monologue, much less a good show. And the risk of money and reputation just isn't worth it.
It's telling that -- while we see several examples of jazz and Sebastian's obsession with it - we don't see a single moment of Mia's show. We see her scribbling down ideas, we see her pre-show, and we see the lights come up on the skeletal crew of an audience when the show is over, but Chazelle cannot even imagine a highlight for us. We hear afterwards that she cannot even afford to pay the rent on the theater -- something that is highly unlikely, since every theater owner I'm aware of demands full payment in advance, especially for a one night rental. Then again, just getting the show up at all takes the cooperation of friends and fellow artists, none of whom seem to be involved in helping Mia make this happen.
No, as a screenwriter myself, I understand what young Chazelle had in mind. Mia has to crash and burn doing this crazy idea that Sebastian had for her - which is then redeemed when it turns out that a casting person was in her skeletal audience (wow!) and this casting person will become the agent in making all her dreams come true (double wow!) Because ultimately it's all about the power of love to transform the ordinary into the magical, and it's about belief - believing in the power of that love - that makes the transformation possible.
(But really - a major casting person goes to a small theater in North Hollywood to see an unknown actress in the one performance of her one woman show? Love may make miracles happen, but this is truly one for the ages.)
It's a credit to Damien Chazelle's skill as a filmmaker, I suppose, that his romantic fable succeeds in seducing us to the degree that it does. He knows the world of jazz and the industry town that is Hollywood to a remarkable degree. But the reality of making theater here and what it takes to put on a play?
Not so much, amigo. No, not so much.
ps - Here's a fun read about why no one went to Mia's solo show.