If you only see one movie this year, La La Land is the picture to catch. This nostalgic homage to the Golden Age of Hollywood is a panoramic masterpiece that makes effective use of every inch of the big screen.
Written and directed by Oscar nominee Damien Chazelle (Whiplash), the picture was shot in CinemaScope, an obsolete technology that fell out of favor with filmmakers in the late 60s. Chazelle resurrects the wide-angled lens to produce an old-fashioned musical that unfolds against a breathtaking array of Los Angeles backdrops. La La Land also features an enchanting original score composed by Justin Hurwitz, who has also collaborated before with his college classmate Damien on the movies Whiplash and Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench.
This romantic film is about Sebastian Wilder and Mia Dolan, struggling artists who are played to perfection by Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone respectively. Their supporting cast includes J.K. Simmons, John Legend, and Rosemarie DeWitt.
After a show-stopping opening staged on a gridlocked freeway where stuck motorists suddenly break into song and dance, we’re introduced to the lead actors. We learn that jazz pianist Sebastian is a purist who plays for tips in dingy dives while trying to save enough cash to open his own nightclub. Mia is an aspiring actress who divides her time between auditions and a job as a barista at a coffee shop on the Warner Brothers lot.
Sebastian and Mia are strangers who initially annoy each other whenever their paths cross. Eventually, however, sparks do fly which inspires them to sing mellifluous and melancholy tunes. They also fall in love and encourage each other to pursue their dreams.
Since it would be unfair to spoil any of the ensuing plot developments, suffice it to say that Gosling and Stone are delightful, whether singing or generating screen chemistry. The movie is a charming pleaser that deserves all the superlatives it’s about to receive in the upcoming awards season.
Excellent (****). Rated PG-13 for profanity. Running time: 128 minutes. Distributor: Summit Entertainment/Lionsgate Films.