Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling dance and sing their way across our city with grace and wit in La La Land, which is easily one of the finest films of the year. Directed by Damien Chazelle (Whiplash), the film first comes across as a triffle, but builds to a third act that has surprising resonance. Devoid of cynicism, the unassuming La La Land is an homage to the musical as a genre and an ode to dreamers – as such, it will steal your heart and should absolutely top your Holiday To Do List. Here’s Common Sense’s review, which recommends the film as 13+.
La La Land opens with a soon-to-be-classic number in which commuters in a traffic jam climb out of their cars and start to dance. It’s a multi-cultural vision that feels like the Los Angeles we live in right now. There is a homemade quality to the filmmaking, which is ultimately endearing but feels a bit risky in this first number. As Ty Burr of the Boston Globe says, “La La Land” isn’t perfect, but you’re absolutely forgiven if you want it to be.” Hang in there, because Stone and Gosling are in charge and after three movies together, their chemistry is comfortable and winning. Later, as if easing into its groove, the storytelling expands to the breadth of the Cinemascope screen (please, see this in the theater), and when Emma and Ryan tap dance against a Mulholland Drive outlook, everything is all right with the world.
As the film gathers steam, the tropes of a vintage Hollywood tale emerge and Chapelle relies upon the musicals of days gone by as inspiration. (The film demands that we go back and watch the best of the bunch, Umbrellas of Cherbourg and Singing in the Rain – both rain-themed and worthy of a cozy night on the couch). Chazelle plants Mia and Sebastian into a timeless landscape that glorifies big-picture dreams, jazz-of-old, and unabashed romance – like all LA-comers, the lovers have dreams of greatness and their starry-eyed determination feels fresh as Chazelle explores the LA’s movie-soaked landscape with fresh eyes.
The last act of the movie delivers an elegant Sliding Doors moment of longing that speaks to the power of first love, and resolves the emotional high-stakes with a satisfaction that is rare in current movies. La La Land is a movie for the ages, and speaks not only to the essence of why so many of us love LA, but heartily glorifies its mythic past and allows us to view it again through the lens of the present – the sunny optimism of this film is a perfect balm for the end of 2016. Here’s to the dreamers!