What It’s About: “La La Land” reminds us of why we go to the movies in the first place.
Magical, innovative and boldly showing us again where musicals once transported us, the year’s best movie honors the past with a future-forward cinematic experience.
A romance between an aspiring actress and a struggling jazz musician is told against an expansive backdrop of Los Angeles, both real and imagined. Mia (Emma Stone) and Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) are dreamers who experience success and failure as they pursue their passions.
Gloriously shot in Cinemascope, the film soars in its musical numbers, from the ebullient, eye-popping opening number during a traffic jam on a freeway, “Another Day in the Sun!” to a dreamy duet against a starlit sky at the Griffith Observatory.
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With a poignant jazz-infused piano score that you won’t be able to get out of your head by Justin Hurwitz, and wistful ballads “City of Stars” and “Audition ( The Fools Who Dream”) by Broadway rising stars Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, the music both enchants and moves.
Stone and Gosling don’t have traditional musical theater voices, but their natural delivery fits the story.
Writer-director Damien Chazelle, whose filmmaking calling card was “Whiplash” two years ago, makes it possible for us to believe in something bigger than ourselves and to dream. After all, Hollywood is the dream factory.
Teamed for their third onscreen romance, Stone and Gosling have a warm, easy chemistry with each other, and it builds on the “Crazy, Stupid, Love” interaction that was so endearing.
The fact that they’re believable dancing together as much as in the couple conflicts shows their range. Gosling sang and danced on the “All New Mickey Mouse Club,” along with Justin Timberlake and Brittney Spears (1993-1995), so his abilities are no surprise. What is stunning, however, is that he is convincing playing the piano, which he just learned for the film.
Another unexpected twist is the emotional rollercoaster between two young people chasing their dreams. This is not a happy-go-lucky romp.
The supporting cast — JK Simmons as a supper club owner, John Legend as a musician friend, Rosemarie DeWitt as Sebastian’s sister — are minor characters. It is Gosling and Stone radiating from center stage.
The influence of such classic musicals as “Singin’ in the Rain,” “An American in Paris,” “The Bandwagon,” “West Side Story,” and the lesser-known 1964 Jacques Demy romance “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg,” are obvious, but the film is not derivative or mired in nostalgia at all.
Chazelle is clearly a modern visionary, with high regard for cinema’s timeless appeal.
With a title like “La La Land,” it might appear to be fluff, but there is real substance.
And it’s hard not to break out in Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers moves while watching.
La La Land
Stars: 4 out of 4
Director: Damien Chazelle
Starring: Emma Stone, Ryan Gosling, JK Simmons, John Legend
Rated: PG-13 for some language