Film Review: La La Land
La La Land (2016) Director Damien Chazelle
La La Land is a totally seductive and most welcome guilty pleasure. A film musical set in contemporary Los Angeles that is so irony-free that it feels like a period piece. The opening scene is a terrific music and dance number set on a whole section of freeway in a paralyzing traffic jam which provides the opportunity for all of the drivers to leave their cars and sing snippets of their lives, their hopes, dreams and fears of pursuing their artistic careers while performing a quasi-parkour style of choreography all over the cars and guard rails. (Shades of A Chorus Line). It is exuberant and unexpected in a movie theatre. It has the feel of a Broadway overture.
It is there that we first meet our two future sweethearts Mia (Emma Stone), a budding actress and Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) a struggling jazz pianist, in their separate cars. When they later meet cute, she is entranced by his playing but he is being fired so her admiration is emphatically unappreciated. He has attitude while Mia has none. Next time she has the upper hand and they are on their way to an only-in-Hollywood romance.
Their courtship unfolds in episodes which involve tap dancing, levitating inside a planetarium, and all manner of wholesome activities. That and the light-hearted sincerity brought to mind Singing the the Rain, the vehicle that launched Debby Reynolds. In spite of the fact that they have cell phones and she drives a Prius the retro look of the film is created by the musical numbers, the cheerful-colors, the stylized clothing and the bouncy acting style. There might be a nod to Wes Anderson in the intentional artificiality of the overall production design. But this is actually Damien Chazelle’s baby. He wrote and directed the film and his Harvard classmate, Justin Hurwitz wrote the songs and lyrics.
Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling turn in totally appealing performances as does John Legend, as a band leader who offers the reluctant Sebastian a well-paying job touring with his hugely popular pop rock group. This is initially a stretch for Sebastian who fancies himself a jazz purist whose dream is to have a club of his own which will revive authentic jazz and educate a new audience. As their careers move forward and become more complicated their romance suffers. The fast-forward to their future selves meeting unexpectedly has a charming dream sequence of the moment which marked the turning point in their bittersweet story. I found my cynical self smiling like a fool throughout. I dare anyone not to be delighted.