Every once in a while a movie comes along that provides the ultimate retreat from reality. You cozy into your theater seat, break out the Junior Mints and sip your fountain drink as the world melts away into cinematic fantasy. “La La Land,” directed by Damien Chazelle, is the ultimate escapist film. Pure visual narcotic, the movie is a celebration of music, color and drama. It is both nostalgic and refreshingly new, and offers more than it’s fair share of talent. In other words, it’s simply magical.
“La La Land” is a story for and about dreamers. Mia, performed by the vibrant Emma Stone, moves to Los Angeles with her heart set on becoming a star. She pays her dues serving coffee as a barista and schlepping from one bad audition to the next, dreaming of the day when she’ll finally get a call back and land her first gig. In the meantime, as she sings and struggles her way to the top, Mia continues to run into the garrulous jazz aficionado, Sebastian. Performed by Ryan Gosling, Sebastian is a starving artist with dreams of opening his own jazz club (“Chicken On A Stick”) where he imagines reviving the sounds of Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk and John Coltrane.
Together, the two actors perform with a magnetic chemistry in a classic hate-turned-love relationship. Second only to the passion for their careers is their passion for each other. The real question in the end is, which love will conquer all?
Long breathtaking filming sequences move through a chaos of movement, as dancers fly on skateboards or flip from one parked car to another, give the audience enough time to marvel at the timing and execution of such incredible choreography. Mandy Moore (the choreographer, not the singer), who is known for her work in “Dancing with the Stars” and “Silver Linings Playbook” outdid herself in “La La Land.”
Both Stone and Gosling, as well, impress with their triple threat abilities, singing and dancing from one scene to the next. The film clearly requires each actor to stretch their abilities, and, perhaps the most impressive result of this is Gosling’s performance on the piano. He may not be a virtuoso, yet, but he can sure play.
“La La Land” is indeed a musical, but don’t hold that against it. If you avoid seeing this film because post traumatic stress memories of “West Side Story” or “Oklahoma” resurface, you will be the worse for it. This movie is amazing because of, rather than in spite of, it’s song and dance, a repertoire that is lively and diverse.
You hardly notice as the music transitions from the boisterous sounds of big brass bands to the soulful R&B melodies of John Legend to effervescent jazz performances that are sure to make you a loyal follower of the genre. It’s not a soundtrack that’s likely to get old, and if you’re not humming “Another Day in the Sun” while watching the movie, you’re sure to be doing it after you purchase the album.
Although the movie wistfully revives the glamour of old Hollywood in a sumptuous wardrobe of heavily saturated Technicolor hues (pure eye candy), “La La Land” feels surprisingly modern. In fact, the film’s incredible opening scene takes place in the middle of L.A. rush hour and you can’t get much more 21st century than that.
Though at times the fight to get ahead and superficiality of fame is poked fun at, the dream of every hopeful in the “city of stars” is as real now as it ever has been. For those who work hard enough and believe long enough those dreams become reality.