La La Land is a film that often fights and challenges itself. It complains about Hollywood as much as it adores it (a line from Ryan Gosling that L.A. “worships everything and values nothing” is especially on point) and that paradox is only part of why it’s just a great film. It’s almost impossibly romantic and hopeful and wistful (like a Hollywood ingénue) yet for all of its dreams there is a grounded reality that raises it from simply being a fun and frothy musical.
This is Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone’s third outing together (they previously starred in the clunker Gangster Squad and the very good comedy Crazy, Stupid, Love) and they have such an easy charm with each other. Their ‘meet-hate’ in the film’s freeway traffic jam opening number is adorable. Stone has a frisky elegance to her barista-actress and gives the best performance of her career and Gosling continues to be one of the most underrated comedic actors of his generation (between this and The Nice Guys he’s having a great film year) but knows just when to brood.
The musical numbers are undeniably fun; the choreography by So You Think You Can Dance’s Mandy Moore is beautifully classic, and there is pure magic between cinematographer Linus Sandgren and Oscar-winning film editor Tom Cross. The numbers are utterly seamless and fluid, at some points turning the camera – the audience, really – into a participant.
With La La Land, writer/director Damien Chazelle has crafted a true modern day classic that reminds us of the power of possibility and of dreams, the belief in love and being in love. It’s one of the very best films of the year.