For his follow-up to Whiplash, Damien Chazelle took on Hollywood musicals. La La Land delivers a sweet, romantic, wonderful piece of film. Chazelle’s love and understanding of music are allowed full sway in this intimate and sprawling tale of dreams and romance (and, of course, art) in modern LA. While clearly riffing on the old musicals of the 40s and 50s, he keeps things contained; only a step above “natural” so that they feel more believable despite large song and dance numbers that punctuate the action.
Sealing the deal for this film is the paring and talent of Ryan Gosling (The Nice Guys) and Emma Stone (An Irrational Man). Their open and accessible demeanors ensure you like and root for them. Gosling is also a whiz on the piano, a talent he picked up just for this role (if you have to hate someone for their talent, he is quickly rising to the top of the list). There are others in the film, but they don’t really matter, to be blunt. The story is Stone and Gosling… everything else could have been sock puppets and it would have worked thanks to them and Chazelle’s directing.
So is this, among other things, this year’s Best Picture? The movie has been sweeping up awards around the world. Certainly it deserves the Oscar nomination. The fact that is a romance is likely to hurt it in votes, but the deft and audacious tackling of a musical will help it. Admittedly, the pacing is a bit odd at times, but it never loses its footing and the final 10 minutes pay-off the tale gloriously. And in a sea of depressing and challenging stories, this is a positive and honest tale without a helping of syrup.
If you love movies, and you want to keep seeing original stories, go see this on the big screen even though it isn’t an action flick. If you don’t, you’ll be kicking yourself.