by Coop Cooper
These two films have received a fair amount of Academy Awards chatter. They are also both complete polar opposites of each other, yet both have the potential to receive a “Best Picture” nomination.
“Moonlight” – Running from bullies, Chiron (Alex R. Hibbert) – nicknamed ‘Little’ – hides in an abandoned crack house and is found by drug dealer Juan (Mahershala Ali) who feels sorry for him. Upon taking Little back home, Juan learns of Little’s harsh home life and feels compelled to look out for him. Little feels safe with Juan and his kind girlfriend Teresa (Janelle Monae) but can’t abide Juan’s dealing, knowing that his own mother is one of Juan’s clients. In his teenage years, Chiron (Ashton Sanders) as he is now called, knows he is different and possibly gay. With his mother’s drug use getting out of control and the constant bullying at school, Chiron feels isolated and conflicted. After a betrayal of trust ends in tragedy, Chiron’s life changes drastically. Years later, as an adult going by the alias ‘Black’ (Trevante Rhodes), Chiron finds himself living a lifestyle he once looked down upon until a call from home compels him to return home and face the demons from his past.
One major problem I had with the film is the same problem I had with “Boyhood” (2014). It shows so much of the boy’s younger life, it leaves the audience wanting more time with the older version of the character. Scenes would feel long and drawn-out when they could have been shortened to either tighten the story up or leave more time for forward motion. If you boil “Moonlight” down to its basic parts, the film is simply a snippet of the character’s growth when so much more could have been explored. Heavy edits could easily turned this feature into a short.
Also, the film left the thread with Juan dangling when he was the most compelling character in the film. I felt a big part of the film was missing with his character written out of the rest of the film. If “Moonlight” had a more complete feel it would make it easier to imagine as an Academy Award winner. Other than that, the acting highly impressive, as was the direction. It also broaches taboo subjects within a setting that rarely explores these issues on film. For this reason alone it could win “Best Picture”.
Rating: 3 and ½ out of 5 stars
“La La Land” – Mia (Emma Stone) is a down-on-her-luck actress, moonlighting as a barista on a Hollywood studio lot. Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) is a stubborn jazz pianist with dreams of owning his own club but he keeps trading potential monetary success for the purity and poverty of his craft. The two keep running into each other under antagonistic circumstances, but when they finally strike a spark, They become inseparable. When both Mia and Sebastian start to feel like their relationship is compromising their dreams and happiness, cracks begin to show and threaten to crumble their born-from-fantasy romance.
This film is marketed as a musical, but that’s not entirely accurate. It includes musical numbers but never fully commits to the form. Stone and Gosling aren’t professional singers, but they fake it well enough considering the singing isn’t a regular occurrence. More frequent than the singing is the dancing which the couple pulls off fairly well. However, the real wonder of the film is Ryan Gosling’s impressive jazz piano playing, an instrument he learned to play very proficiently just for his role in this film. Not sure exactly how much of it he was actually playing in the film, but it looked flawless.
If “La La Land” has one failing is that it lags significantly in the middle. Once Mia and Sebastian’s relationship begins to sour, the light tone changes to heavy and weight of it drags the story down after such a lofty beginning. It switches gears after awhile and the drag turns into compelling drama, but that lull does hurt the film a little. By the end – and if you can appreciate the resolution – all is forgiven, making “La La Land” a satisfying semi-musical that doesn’t insult your intelligence. Will it win an Oscar? Hard to say, especially since it has been criticized already for not having enough diversity after the #oscarssowhite debacle from last year. Whatever the case, I liked it very much… just short of loving it. The Academy could do a lot worse.
Rating: 4 and ½ out of 5 stars