It’s Time for Hollywood to Pump Out More Contemporary Romantic Musicals

By  · Published on June 6th, 2014

Paramount Pictures

Hollywood’s current movie musical landscape is, well, a pretty flat one (get it? landscape? musical? flat?). This year is surprisingly rich with musical offerings – four musically-tinged features (The Muppets Most Wanted, Jersey Boys, Annie and Into the Woods) will have hit theaters by the time the year ends, while 2013 only had one, 2012 had three and 2011 had a single entry – but despite that apparent upswing in musical feature films, none of them offer what the genre so desperately needs: an original and contemporary musical with a big romantic spin.

Sure, the romantic genre is already floundering at the box office as is, thanks to the consistent wealth of Nicholas Sparks films (which, yes, all feel the same) and the lack of more traditional romantic comedies (which isn’t a bad thing, really, as long as Nancy Meyers keeps making fizzy stuff and we aren’t subjected to another bloated holiday feature, like Arbor Day or similar), but that means that there should be more room for some different spins (and twists and turns) on what constitutes a romantic film. There’s nothing more romantic than singing and dancing, right? So there’s shouldn’t be anything more cinematically romantic than an all-singing, all-dancing movie musical, right? Hollywood needs to be making more, and while they haven’t started just yet, that might be changing very soon.

The Wrap reports that Whiplash director Damien Chazelle is currently working on (you guessed it) his own contemporary movie musical. The film Los Angeles-set film is titled La La Land, and Chazelle is already reportedly courting some prospective stars. The outlet shares that Chazelle is looking to his Whiplash star Miles Teller to take on the male lead, with an eye to Emma Watson to assume the leading lady part.

The film is described as “a two-hander that follows a pair of dreamers – aspiring actress Mia, who’s lonely desperate to fit in, and cocky yet charismatic jazz pianist Sebastian – who fall in love in Los Angeles. However, the city that brought them together may tear them apart, as they soon discover that balancing love and art in such a cutthroat climate isn’t easy.” La La Land is already being called “a song-and-dance romance” that promises to deliver “a movie about big dreams, the big city and the kind of love that makes life feel like a musical.”

The outlet also managed to snag Chanzelle’s “lookbook” for the film, a longish document that basically lays out everything we’d want to know about the film without actually reading the script. Take a look!

“I’d like to make a contemporary musical about L.A., starting with the L.A. we know but slowly building to a vision of the city as romantic metropolis–one that is actually worthy of the dreams it inspires. I’d like to make a musical about the way L.A.’s peculiar rhythms can push its residents to the edge of their emotions–be they hope, desperation or love. Think the kind of teetering-toward-madness you see in “The Graduate” or “Boogie Nights”, and imagine if you were to push that further. In this case, the city pushes its residents all the way: it pushes them into song.

The characters of this movie are just people trying to make it. One thing most movies about struggling L.A. actors and musicians miss is the poetry of their struggle: these are blue-collar folks working day in and day out to make something happen. What I’m interested in is pitting their yearnings and their ambitions against the musical genre. After all, musicals are all about the push-and-pull between reality and fantasy; the heroes of this film, because of their big dreams, are constantly poised on that edge.

At its core, this is a movie about artists in love–and what it means to be an artist in love in arguably the most competitive city on the planet. How do you juggle the need to find success as an artist with the need to share oneself with another human being? And how do you do so in a place where every poster, every street corner and every sign remind you of the glories just beyond reach? L.A. is the “Dream Factory”, and to me there’s something swooningly romantic about that: all those unsung songs and unrealized ideas clouding the air. By casting an affectionate eye on a pair of young hopefuls, while aspiring to the kind of full-fledged romanticism you hardly ever see in today’s movies, I hope to capture the spirit of the city I now call home, and make a movie that feels both classical and urgent–and, yes, intrinsically L.A.”

Chazelle knows a thing or two about movie musicals – while his Whiplash isn’t exactly a musical, it’s run through with hard-hitting sounds and musical performances, just like his Grand Piano. He also wrote and directed Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench, a bonafide original musical and one of just two musicals to hit the big screen in 2010 (the other was Burlesque). If anyone is going to bring us a good contemporary movie musical – with romance! – it’s probably Chazelle, and La La Land sounds like an excellent project.

Is it music to our ears? Oh, come on.

La La Land is aiming to go into production next February.