Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone play a jazz pianist and actress respectively, who both pursue their dreams in sunny Los Angeles. She has high aspirations as an actress and he wants to own his own jazz club. So it’s not to be confused for a sequel to Zombieland, even though it features Emma Stone.
While stylistic elements such as tap dancing and the Google colour palette are straight out of the great musicals of the past, La La Land updates these elements, putting them in a thoroughly contemporary setting. As such the central relationship is more naturalistic than in traditional musicals, owing a lot to the tightly written screenplay and the superb performances of the two leads.
There is of course nothing new about young people moving to LA in the hope of making it big. Gosling’s Seb is a jazz fanatic who loves anything vintage and dreams of opening his own club, a nod to director Damien Chazelle’s own passion for the genre. Their relationship is so well played that it’s remarkably believable even as it hits familiar cinematic notes.
The choreography is superb and Gosling and Stone dance well together. However they pale in comparison to the Hollywood legends (Ginger Rogers, Fred Astaire, Gene Kelley…) to whom they are paying homage and Gosling lives up to his name and tunelessly squarks his way through the songs. He makes up for it, however, with excellent piano playing.
The music is well done, although the jazz which is incidental to the film is often more enjoyable than the main songs and while there are some outstanding musical scenes, few of the song and dance numbers living up to the dizzy highs of the opening and closing.
The city of LA plays a more important part than in many films set there. While the characters of cities like New York, San Francisco or London often form an intrinsic part of films set there, LA is more often a blank canvas. Well here even its busy freeways are a set to be danced in. LA landmarks are used and the city is photographed so well it almost appears to have character itself. With elaborate, long takes and impressive attention to detail it must surely be in serious contention for Best Director, if not Best Picture.