2017-01-05 / On the Town

Stone, Gosling hit emotional high in timeless musical

The Movie Nut
Robert Gibbons

“Here’s to the ones who dream,” Mia sings. “Foolish as they may seem.”

Movies simply don’t get any more magical than “La La Land.”

From the opening credits when the screen widens out to announce “Presented in Cinemascope,” to the closing scene that’s reminiscent of “Casablanca,” this is an homage to yesterday with a spirit that’s timeless.

It’s a film you’ll watch with a smile on your face, interrupted— and sometimes accompanied—by a tear in your eye and a lump in your throat. You won’t know whether to laugh or cry; sometimes— simultaneously, happily— you’ll do both.

Yes, it will remind you of vintage musicals; parts are contrived in the same way that they were. The opening sequence, set on a gridlocked Los Angeles freeway, has the elaborate staging of the best of Busby Berkeley.

Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers could cut in to the shuffle dancing above the city at night. Gene Kelly would recognize the lamppost Ryan Gosling clings to. It’s that kind of movie.

If you love musicals, you’ll find a lot to love here.

“La La Land” was written and directed by Damien Chazelle. Like his first film, “Whiplash,” this is a story of dreamers and the obstacles they face in realizing their dreams.

But above all, it’s a love story about Mia (Emma Stone) and Sebastian (Gosling), two star-crossed kids played by actors with charm and charisma and chemistry to die for.

It’s winter when they meet first in traffic; he gives her the horn, she gives him the finger. In spring, they see each other at parties. They eventually connect one night when she’s trying to find her car.

He wants to open a jazz club; she’s an aspiring actress. There may already be too many actresses and clubs in LA.

We follow her story for a bit, then his. Sometimes, for no reason, it snows.

By summer, they’re together— and struggling to balance life and art, dreams and reality, along the way.

They get rejected, fired. They lose faith in themselves, but not each other. They paint their passion, and their pain, on a canvas of hope.

We so want them to be together because when they are, they lapse into songs and dances that feel intimate yet ambitious, dazzling and different. They’re in a world of their own and we want to stay with them there.

That is really Gosling playing the piano to express his love for jazz. That is really he and Stone singing, together or apart, on “A Lovely Night,” in the “City of Stars” and about “Fools Who Dream.”

Their voices are thin, but so expressive. Their hearts are tentative, trusting, teasing, overflowing. When they float above the clouds, so do we.

Much of the dialogue exists to move us to the next musical sequence, but the argument that ends act two is more than that. It’s so well-written, so well-played, so pointed, so gentle—so right for them.

Stone has such an expressive face. You can look into her eyes and just watch her heart shatter— or melt. We feel her pain, her wonder, her worries.

Gosling is solid, stoic and struggling to figure out the rules of the game. When he tells his sister (Rosemarie DeWitt) that he’s “letting life hit me until it gets tired,” he never expected love to take its shot.

John Legend has an easy grace that makes his character likable. J.K. Simmons plays a tough taskmaster, just as he did in “Whiplash,” but this time the role is very minor.

Virtually no other character has much to do. This is Stone and Gosling’s movie and they’re more than enough to keep us entertained, enchanted. Their fantasy sequence breaks our hearts.

“Here’s to the hearts that ache,” she sings. “Here’s to the mess we make.”

Here’s to an absolutely wonderful love story of two kids who pay the price to follow their dreams.

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