LA LA LAND – 5 stars (out of 5 stars)
In an era of emotion-free autotune, humiliating TV talent contests and cynically constructed boy bands there would seem to be no place for a good old-fashioned song and dance extravaganza.
Yet Whiplash director Damien Chazelle begs to differ.
Abstaining from any CGI trickery or insincere power ballads, he delivers a euphorically pure shot of undiluted joyousness, an irony-free tonic that doesn’t just lift the spirits but sends them soaring heaven-wards.
It’s all about a boy and a girl. Both are appealing. Both are eccentric.
Ryan Gosling is Seb, a jazz pianist whose purist leanings and ambition to open his own club are hampered by an indifferent world, particularly the chicken-in-a-basket crowd who patronize the supper club where he’s the resident entertainment.
Emma Stone is Mia, a silver screen-obsessed wannabe actress and writer who constantly skips off shifts as a barista on the Warner Bros studio lot to attend auditions which usually end in disappointment.
They first meet in a traffic jam on a sun-kissed, present day Los Angeles freeway…but the focus here is a sensational one-shot dance routine where the traffic-jammed commuters jump out of their vehicles and do the show right there.
A few tentative steps later they re-connect at a Hollywood party (he’s playing jazz synthesizer in an appalling covers band) and the sparks begin to fly, particularly after a one-take entrancing set-piece above the glinting lights of downtown LA. It could be 1950 if we didn’t know better.
Their sunny romance quickly goes into overdrive…but there are stress points. He joins a successful but punishingly hard-touring band while she struggles to reverse her thwarted ambitions as a playwright and Actress. Their lofty Old Hollywood ambitions threaten to come between them.
Despite the song and dance focus of the film, its heartwarming success is ultimately down to the constantly sparking chemistry between Stone and Gosling. They are also surprisingly gifted dancers and singers and their heart-on-the-sleeve vulnerability lends real authenticity to their faltering romance.
Emma Stone plays a convincingly strong single women whose underlying vulnerabilities come out at times only to be pushed back down by her dream of life. Her Oscar-nominated work in Birdman was striking, yet she has never been better and deserves the many awards she is receiving for her performance in this film.
Nominated previously for an Oscar (for Half Nelson), Ryan Gosling Seb is a charming, eccentric guy who finds romance with jazz and his musical dreams at odds with his romance with Mia. He’s a very well-written character played to perfection by Gosling. Without these performances and the chemistry between Gosling and Stone La La Land would have fallen flat. While surrounded by a cast which includes J.K. Simmons and John Legend the film doesn’t give its supporting characters back stories nor plots…the film belongs to Gosling and Stone alone.
The authenticity of the “old style musical” is brought to vivid life by beautifully designed costumes and production design filmed in authentic Cinemascope. It’s a treat to the eyes and ears.
Both the score and songs are presented in unmitigated, true original glory. And the choreography is immaculate.
The sweet romance peppered by bittersweet honesty is undoubtedly one of the best of 2016, if not the very best.
Sweet-natured in a time of often cynicism, this buoyantly uplifting fable sets the soul soaring and the heart beating.
Dance to its tune.
UPDATE: La La Land receives 14 Oscar nominations, a tie for the most nominations of all-time!