Directed by Damien Chazelle (“Whiplash”), “La La Land” could turn out to be the film of the year, also with award nominations for its charismatic stars, Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling. This is a glorious musical, rooted in the tradition of classic Hollywood musicals but updated for today’s audiences. Its romantic sensibilities are explored to the fullest with imaginative visuals and flights of fancy, yet also topped with an unconventional resolution.
The title, of course, refers to Hollywood. There is great chemistry between Stone and Gosling. She plays an aspiring actress who also wants to write but meanwhile works in a coffee shop on a studio lot. He is Sebastian, a jazz-loving musician who excels at piano, dreams of having his own club but meanwhile does piano-bar type gigs.
They meet cute and eventually fall in love, but their dreams seem out of reach as she is rejected in auditions and he is on the road for long stretches playing in a successful band. Each star turns on the charm for audiences as they go through their lives with and without each other. Stone is absolutely delightful and Gosling also packs complementary screen appeal. Together they are romantic dynamite.
They also get to sing and dance. Though not Rogers and Astaire, they nevertheless have charming numbers in the traditional vein. Linus Sandgren’s cinematography is consistently dazzling, with lovely fantasy sequences, including at one point Mia and Sebastian ascending into a heaven of stars when visiting the Griffith Conservatory.
There is a sumptuous score by Justin Hurwitz, who also has written the music for the oft-repeated theme number, “City of Stars,” with lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul and Stone and Gosling singing.
The inventive tone of the film is communicated at the outset, with car jam-ups on a freeway resulting in people leaving their vehicles to dance up a storm on the auto roofs and on the asphalt in as exhilarating and visually arresting film launch as we have seen in a long time.
“La La Land” is a welcome treat for the holiday season or any other season, and it rescues the musical form from the bins of Hollywood history. The romance may have its predictable elements but the stars, supporting cast members, director and other creators having a hand in the film make it all seem fresh. A Lionsgate release. Reviewed December 9, 2016.