December 16, 2016
Cast: Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, John Legend, Rosemarie DeWitt
Director: Damien Chazelle
La La Land, starring Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, is a dreamy kind of musical. A gorgeous swirl of color and sound; a film so unmistakably buoyant it leaves you feeling like you’re walking on air yourself.
Because the only other thing I love as much as movies is food, I’ll offer an analogy. Think of it as a raspberry flavored meringue – light and airy, and with a sweet, lasting aftertaste.
I hope I’ve been able to tempt you into making time for the film, because you should. It’s one of those rare movies that evoke the nostalgia of classic Hollywood musicals from the 50s and 60s, while still reflecting an audacious and blazingly original vision.
Not surprising given that it’s the brainchild of the very talented writer-director Damien Chazelle, who made a terrific debut with Whiplash two years ago. As it turns out, both films couldn’t be more dissimilar. Whiplash was in equal parts a thrilling and wounding drama that masterfully put a sting on the traditional student-mentor template. La La Land is like a soothing balm to help us get by in these cynical times.
It has an infectious energy, and it grabs you from the moment in, with a spectacular all-singing all-dancing opening sequence staged in a traffic jam on a Los Angeles freeway. You’ll have a big silly grin plastered on your face as you watch passengers and drivers do backflips on the pavement and break into song from the rooftops of their cars.
Within moments we’re introduced to the protagonists. Emma Stone is Mia, a waitress in a coffee shop on a studio lot, but really an aspiring actress enduring the repeated humiliation of futile auditions. Ryan Gosling is Sebastian, a brooding pianist and jazz purist reduced to performing showtunes and carols at restaurants, although he dreams of running his own nightclub.
The film follows them as they meet, argue, flirt, and fall in love. Their romance blossoms through disappointments and small victories, and unfolds against a breathtaking fairytale version of Los Angeles. La La Land is as much a love letter to the city of angels, and we get beautiful moments that are hard to shake off. Like an impromptu Singin’ in the Rain-style duet while searching for their cars after a party in the Hollywood Hills, and a flight to the stars (literally!) while visiting Griffith Observatory.
Gosling and Stone have excellent chemistry together, and they have credible singing and dancing skills. There are plenty of straightforward, dramatic scenes too, especially in the film’s latter half when their relationship hits rocky waters. It’s in these portions that La La Land tends to drag.
But that’s a minor issue in an otherwise enchanting and wondrous film that restores your faith in the power of cinema. Stunning both to look at and listen to, this is a charming film that makes you laugh, weep, and want to bring out your dancing shoes when the characters do. I’m going with four-and-a-half out of five. Don’t miss it at any cost.
(This review first aired on CNN News18)