MPAA Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 2hr 8min
By the time director Damien Chazelle (Whiplash) winks directly at the audience of his enchanting musical La La Land with a joke about whether people like things that are overtly nostalgic, the audience chuckles knowingly, because the film has already full-throatedly declared its allegiance to the colorful, splashy American musicals of the the ’40s and ’50s and the French ones of the 1960s.
Set in L.A., it tells the story of an aspiring actress (Emma Stone) and a jazz musician (Ryan Gosling) who meet, and sing, and dance, and gaze at each other in beautiful clothes, and if that sounds too simple, it’s not: it’s utterly intoxicating. It’s a movie for people who love darkened theaters, who love movies, who love movie stars, and who love giving themselves over to other people’s art without a pause for cynicism.
Musicals contain an element of fantasy in their very structure; nobody suddenly breaks out in song in the middle of the day, and if they did, other people in the street would not sing and dance with them. Thus, a musical is an ideal vessel for a story like this that’s about creativity and dreaming, one that acknowledges that every relationship has a real existence as well as a fantasy incarnation for which the people in it are constantly reaching. Neither Stone nor Gosling is primarily a song-and-dance person (though she’s done Cabaret), but they’re both game and ridiculously charismatic, and they’re both perfectly capable of what the film asks of them.
In order to carry off a film like this, there has to be a total commitment to tonal control, and Chazelle has it nailed. There is an early scene in which Ryan Gosling leans against a lamppost, and it will motivate in even the most cynical of hearts a certain primordial swoon. The people involved in this project know exactly what it is they’re making and exactly how they want it to feel. Mary Zophres’ costumes are stunning, worth the price of seeing the film on the big screen just for the clothes. Stone spends much of her time in brightly colored solid dresses that are each like the peal of a bell, and Gosling’s two-tone shoes are going to help bring back two-tone shoes. (Don’t believe me? See the movie.) It’s just gorgeous, like a flipbook made of dreamy vintage postcards that are somehow about contemporary life in Los Angeles.