La La Land

La La Land ★★★★★

Instantly enchanting and impossibly charming, Damien Chazelle's "La La Land" is both a throwback and a glance forward. An original musical comedy that buzzes with a golden age energy at the same times it bristles with contemporary verve, Chazelle's film sings and swings its way off the screen, launching itself with undeniable joy into the hearts and minds of its audience. It is an experience the pulses and beats with pure, cinematic bliss.

"La La Land" is the story of Mia, and it is the story of Sebastian. The two are dreamers stuck in dreams of movies and music. Working day-jobs and night-gigs to get by, the two meet-cute, fall hard, and push one another nurturingly against a backdrop of a decidedly lived-in yet still magical Hollywood.

The narrative is classic romantic comedy. Snappy dialogue, beautiful people, and stylized situations populate the story. Centering it all, however, is an honest melancholy the drives the film's themes and the reality of its central romance. Mia and Sebastian, moving toward their artistic goals of acting and music making, are caught up in the machinery of dream-making. The dreams they hold dear bring them together, and, as archetype dictates, may drive them apart. They are cogs in the metaphorically mechanical thing that is Hollywood. They are part of the larger story that is the La La Land factory of artistic wishes.

Closer to Earth, the film's core romance, the story of Mia and Sebastian as a unit, is grounded in a certain reality and narrative truth that understands relationships come together and disappear based on serendipitous traffic jams and burgeoning careers. That understanding sees passions as fleeting, however character-shaping they may be, changing and reforming over the course of a lifetime. It sees love as a double negative that never negates but, as in real life, moves on as circumstance dictates.

All of this is told in a toe-tapping, hip-swaying, and altogether lovely burst of song, dance, and comedic drama. Characters sing to tell the story and illustrate character. They dance to exhibit emotion. They crack-wise and collide to reveal tone.

The songs are memorable, whistleable, and life-affirming, and Chazelle frames them in colorful and contrasting cinematic geography. Yellows, blues, and greens flow from costume and characters, from landscape and light. Cameras swoop and follow, and Chazelle allows his action to take place under a steady cinematographic gaze. He builds scenes that echo under long takes and resonate with structure-defining editing.

The cast, here, is astonishing. Emma Stone's Mia and Ryan Gosling's Sebastian are fully formed, fully realized human beings who are both genuine and cinematic. They are lovable, lively, and performed with mesmerizing vigor. Stone and Gosling, in brilliant displays of movement, voice, gaze, and heart, communicate these characters with grace, humor, and warmth.

Soaring, searing, yet impressively grounded, "La La Land" is a gleeful, heartfelt, and deliciously impressive work of cinema. As artful as it is accessible, it is a rhythmic example of classic form and contemporary spirit that positively bursts with narrative and technical appeal. Delightfully palpable and unforgettably fantastic, "La La Land" is exuberant pop-art that refuses to do anything but please.

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