There’s nothing Hollywood likes more than love letters to itself, and “La La Land” is a love letter of such passion and affection for the glamourous halcyon days of old Hollywood that it almost makes you willing to overlook the slightly weird effect CinemaScope has on the actors’ faces in the close-ups.
In modern day Los Angeles, aspiring actress Mia (Emma Stone) repeatedly encounters passionate jazz pianist Sebastian in a series of meet cute moments supported by song and dance numbers. Eventually, inevitably, they fall in love and the film traces their love affair through its ups and downs as they both try to realise their own artistic dreams and help each other realise theirs.
Director Damien Chazelle (“Whiplash”) delivers us a fantastical, iridescent fantasia of Los Angeles, captured with magical perfection as the backdrop to the romance and drama on screen. His script is an intricate masterpiece of elliptical storytelling as we weave backwards and forwards around the intertwined lives of Mia and Sebastian.
When did Ryan Gosling get to be so good, by the way? I’ve generally been indifferent to him, finding “Crazy, Stupid, Love” crazy stupid boring, but between “The Nice Guys” and this, it really feels like he’s stepped up to a whole new level. As Sebastian, he has charm and charisma to spare and establishes a vibrant chemistry with Emma Stone’s Mia which becomes the beating, aching heart of this supremely romantic and romanticised film. Stone herself delivers the performance of the movie, which is quite an achievement given the film tends towards telling Mia’s story purely in the context of Sebastian’s. Her poignant and emotionally raw performance of her audition song ‘The Fools Who Dream’ rivals Anne Hathaway’s show stopping rendition of ‘I Dreamed A Dream’ from “Les Misérables”. Both, it has to be said, surprise and impress with their ability to keep up with “La La Land”’s playful choreography and it’s their wonderful rapport and combined charm that makes up for their vocals – which while perfectly good – aren’t their strongest assets.
While it honours and celebrates the conventions and artistry of the classic Hollywood musicals, “La La Land” itself isn’t afraid to take an unconventional approach to the expected happy ending, affectingly exploring the tensions and choices inherent in pursuing your dreams and pursuing happiness. Gloriously uplifting, toe-tappingly catchy and unexpectedly emotionally potent, “La La Land” is pure Hollywood cinema at its brightest, breeziest and deceptively insightful best. An absolute joy to watch, now and forever.