Rarity: a New, Good Musical
The romantic musical “La La Land” has received major kudos from critics and is a big-time Oscar-contender. The co-stars, Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, seem well-cast. They had real romantic chemistry in “Crazy, Stupid, Love” (2011). When their “La La” characters meet, he’s a jazz musician working in dives and she’s an aspiring actress/barista trying to survive. They fall in love, but as they become successful, that success starts tearing them apart. JASON FUCHS, 30, whose father was raised Hasidic, has a smallish supporting role. (Opens Friday, Dec. 16)
The film was written and directed by Damian Chazelle, whose best known for his 2014 film “Whiplash”. It was about the relationship between a young jazz student, who is Jewish, and his hard-driving instructor. It was nominated for five Oscars, and won three. In 2015, Chazelle told the “Jewish Journal of Los Angeles” that his Catholic parents were dissatisfied with his Christian Sunday school and they sent him, instead, to Hebrew school for four years. About those four years, Chazelle said: “’…I was very, very into Hebrew… and then I went with my class to Israel when we were in the sixth grade. I don’t think they even knew I wasn’t Jewish; I was, like, ‘passing’.’”
Chazelle met JUSTIN HURWITZ, 31, the “La La Land” film composer, at Harvard and there they formed a nationally successful rock band called Chester-French. Hurwitz wrote 15 songs for “La La” and some are full production numbers. The lyrics for these songs were written by the songwriting team of Justin Paul and BENJ PASEK, 31. Pasek and Paul met at orientation at the Univ. of Michigan and quickly hit it off, despite different backgrounds. Paul’s father is a Protestant minister and Pasek comes from a quite religious Jewish home. They’ve written several shows together, including the Broadway hit musical version of “A Christmas Story.” This is the first time that this team, which normally writes their own complete songs, has written song lyrics only.
A Tightrope Act
Actress Helen Mirren says about the film, “Collateral Beauty,” which opens Dec. 16: “It will be either a complete disaster; will fall onto the rock and crash and burn, or it will be kind of wonderful and very special.” Will Smith plays Howard, a successful New York ad executive who falls into a profound depression when his six-year-old daughter suddenly dies. His partner (Naomie Harris) and colleagues (Kate Winslet, Michael Peña) are worried about his strange behavior and pretty soon we learn through their conversations that Howard is writing and mailing letters, like a child would send to Santa Claus, asking for answers—except his letters are addressed to “Love”, “Death,” and “Time.” Not long into the film, Love, Death, and Time take on human form and in that form they talk to Howard (played by, respectively, Keira Knightley, Mirren, and Jacob Lattimore).
The film was directed by DAVID FRANKEL, 57 (“The Devil Wears Prada”). He’s the son of MAX FRANKEL, 86, the former chief editor of the NY Times. The film was written by ALLAN LOEB, 47, who has previously written hits and flops (hits include “21” a film about gambling, and “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps”; flops include the musical “Rock of Ages”). Loeb began screenwriting in 1993, but nobody would turn his scripts into a movie until 2007. Meanwhile, Loeb compulsively gambled away every penny he made. Maybe Loeb believes in miracles because in 2005 he got help and completely stopped gambling.
Death, of course, is always with us and its funny how people cope. For JOSEPH GORDON-LEVITT, 35, wearing mis-matched socks helps him deal with the death of his older brother, Dan, a photographer, who died in 2010, age 36. The brothers were very close. In 2013, Joseph explained that Dan always wore mis-matched socks and “I inherited his collection.” You can see Joseph wearing mis-matched socks in a recent, highly stylized group photograph accompanying a Dec. 1, 2016 “Actor’s Roundtable” article in the “Hollywood Reporter”. Here's the pic (scroll down on page to the individual shot of Levitt taken from group photo):
I recently saw the little-seen film, “Lullaby” (2014), on Netflix’s streaming service. I watched it because the description said it was about a Jewish family coping with the imminent death of a husband and father—and the father is played by the very good actor Richard Jenkins. After viewing, I can say the bad reviews were right. Still, it’s worth a look for the Jewish content, including a seder in the hospital, and for some good moments—mostly at the end.