FEEL GOOD FILM FOR THIS VIRUS WEEK.
An exhilaratingly vibrant musical from the maker of Whiplash is 21st Century but feels like a lighthearted portmanteau of Hollywood’s glory days in the genre when Rogers and Astaire had many hearts aflutter.
Rhode Island’s Damien Chazelle writes and directs an indelible La La Land which is sweeping in its Cinemascope presentation and has a winsome gritty idealism in letting song express emotion with enormous sentience.
It helps immensely for the co-writer of 10 Cloverfield Lane to have the effervescent talents of Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone on hand, after appearing together in Crazy, Stupid, Love, and Gangster Squad.
Chazelle’s background in music is the foundation for fabricating something original with his prized composer Justin Hurwitz and lyricists to open up these people of possibility in a place where the bittersweet and joyous can burst onto the scene at a moment’s notice.
A jazz musician is Seb (Gosling, who polished his comedic chops in The Nice Guys) and a barista near a studio lot, really aspiring actress trying to be ‘noticed’ is Mia (Stone). They’ll come together after some gridlock on an overpass and meet at Seb’s restaurant with an owner (J.K. Simmons of “Whiplash” in a cameo not as remarkably hard-boiled here) trying to keep the guy’s musical tendencies in line. An unlikely romance will blossom in time but there will be detours as peril exists for them in the City of Angels, or for them, City of Dreams.
Stone has a sharp-edged grace that meshes uncannily with Gosling’s steeliness and self-effacing wit and it shows especially in a hilltop song-and-dance number augmenting an airy absorbing effervescence begun in an early flash mob sequence. Stone (who’s excelled in movies like Birdman and Easy A) has her own showstopper moment that helps realize Chazelle’s fully realized vision which demands to be accepted by a wide audience. John Legend’s Keith is another obstacle for the struggling Seb, leading him away from his jazz preferences and roots in The Messengers group.
What could be considered cautionary as well as buoyant, La La Land deals with the aspect of compromise in going through a course that could lead to some unexpected destination. There’s a striking prickliness in the Seb/Mia dynamic that Gosling and Stone carry through with remarkable spark and mutual charisma that make the performances (vocal and otherwise) all the better. It’s about realizing the unattainable in unpredictable ways and the artist in Chazelle whips up drama and comedy like a classy millennial conductor who uses the old standards to wonderfully build to an energetic, encapsulating climax.