LA LA LAND – a glorious, magical, romantic musical of joy

Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone are falling in love in the city of dreamers in Damien Chazelle’s magical, romantic musical LA LA LAND.

The superlatives came tumbling out of me after watching LA LA LAND, the second film from writer/director Damien Chazelle. Amazing. Breathtaking. Fabulous. Incredible. Magical. Scintillating. Wonderful.

It’s all that and more. This musical romance that conjures up gorgeous memories of the great musicals of the 1950s, as well as being a love letter to Los Angeles and the artistic dreamers who flock to the city, is an audacious follow-up from the man who wowed us with his first movie Whiplash.

From the minute those opening bars of the first musical number ‘Another day of sun’ started and I watched the ensemble sing and dance their hearts out whilst stuck in a traffic jam, tears of joy began to trickle down my cheek and they hardly stopped in the following 2 hours. Golly geez this movie makes you feel good! And even though there are of course bittersweet, painful moments too in the love affair of jazz pianist Sebastian and aspiring actress Mia, the overwhelming feeling you get as you drift out of the cinema is joy.

Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone in LA LA LAND

Ryan Gosling as Sebastian and Emma Stone as Mia

As the two leads, Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone deliver an exhilarating double-act (their 3rd now) that brings to mind Tracy and Hepburn or Bogart and Bergman. Their chemistry – and it’s rare that word can really be used – is breathtaking. We watch them gloriously debate the finer points of jazz, bicker when their dreams push them to breaking point and express their heartfelt feelings for each other in the tiny touching of fingers as they watch a movie. Someone put them together again in another movie again before too long, please!

I’ve always felt Gosling has always imbued even the heaviest of dramas in the earlier part of his career with a lightness of touch – just watch his standout performance (and one of the very best of that year) in George Clooney’s political drama The Ides of March and you’ll see what I mean. More recently in movies like The Nice Guys and The Big Short he’s given that wonderfully sardonic humour of his a freer rein to fantastic results. Here, his Sebastian is a pent-up musician who can’t seem to break free of his past failures and embrace his dreams until he meets Stone’s Mia. I loved his wonderfully downplayed retort to a waitress’s cutting “Welcome back” after he’s has had to swallow his pride and principles and go cap-in-hand to the jazz club’s opinionated owner (a spot-on cameo from J. K. Simmons) to get his job back – “There’s a nice way to say that, Karen”. Brilliant.

Emma Stone as Mia and Ryan Gosling as Sebastian in LA LA LAND

Mia and Sebastian cut a dash

And for all that pride his Sebastian shows to the world, you realise there’s very much a beating heart underneath the surface when after their first dance sequence atop of a hill near Griffith Park, he declines a lift to his car from Mia saying he’s parked close by. Once she’s driven away, you see that’s a lie as he walked her to her car just to be with her and his car is actually parked way back down the hill. Swoon.

Stone has likewise for me always displayed a winning combination of a whip-smart line in dialogue with a kookiness that just makes you warm to her – Crazy. Stupid. Loveis a great example. She’s so marvellous here as Mia. Showing the ache of watching the dream that has driven her through 6 years of rejections at auditions when we meet her at the beginning of the movie, she’s close to the very end of her rope and then the elation on her face when she decides to leave her boyfriend and go to Sebastian – whatever that relationship may hold – is real trembly lip time. Then the vulnerability we witness when she tells the story of her aunt and the inspiration of why she became an actress, could see Stone walk away with the ‘Actress in a Leading Role’ at this year’s Oscars – it’s blisteringly good acting.

As for the man behind LA LA LAND, I think Damien Chazelle deserves all the plaudits going for bringing us a very contemporary love story framed in a superbly nostalgic way that really brings to mind those charming old musicals I mentioned – films like Singin’ in the Rain and An American in Paris (anything with Gene Kelly actually). But with its setting of L.A. and the movie industry, it also conjured up for me memories of The Artist where the lure of success on the silver screen is so powerful.

I don’t choose to take on board the people who have, since the film’s release, started to criticise it for one reason or another. If you feel the need to do that, you go ahead. But I think in the current time of social and political upheaval we find ourselves in, LA LA LAND is such a welcome tonic that if only for 2 hours and 8 minutes we get to go somewhere magical, that’s worth celebrating.