La La Land ★★★½

70

La La Land succeeds, no, scratch that, *soars* when it's in song. Damien Chazelle's newest film about the allure of music and the relationships which stumble within it is nothing less than a marvelous concoction of sunshine and warm, fuzzy twilight condensed into light taps, swooning dance motions, and large musical gestures. There's an old-school magic to seeing two movie stars float among the stars, a dream played out through a projector, frazzled and exultant, and each step feels lovingly delicate, never lost inside its own choreography. If La La Land is ever the Kelly/Astaire/Rogers/Demy revitalization it so desperately wants to be, it is dewy-eyed yet painstakingly clear in the heavenly settings in which Gosling's Sebastian and Stone's Mia dance as if they're one in the vast, timeless sea of Los Angeles.

But of course, they aren't one. La La Land grounds itself in the dueling entities of modern relationships, spinning tropes in an attempt to balance old-school whimsy and its inherent cynical world around the couple, but whenever Mia and Sebastian stop singing and start talking, its framework weakens. Chazelle wants the audience to believe in their passions, their feuds, their dreams, and we do (I mean, as much as broad, two-dimensional caricatures will allow), but it's surface level fluff, fine for a 50s MGM vehicle (although that's selling most of them way short) but not for Chazelle's intended mix of the whimsical and the real. It also doesn't help that Chazelle is confident in conforming to that regard, settling in for a long, long, long second act which practically tosses the 'musical' element aside entirely, which, you know, would be fine if the screenplay wasn't so stilted and obvious when it comes to basic dialogue. It's just disappointing to see a movie fly so high and suddenly commit to its weakest elements. La La Land understands music's beauty - its refined, healing power - and images become translations of the complexities stirred within, I just wish it stuck with its central stars and let them dance more. Less fighting, more singing, or at the very least, less fighting, more sing-fighting. So much of this isn't in song and I don't fucking understand why!

Some extra thoughts:

- Holy shit, so I thought I was in for a much rougher ride when I saw the opening. One of the worst one-take sequences in recent memory, another obvious forgoing of tried-and-true cutting in favor of goofy showmanship and lame hidden edits. Luckily Chazelle got his artistic itch out of the way and decided to make a real movie from then on.

- Emma Stone is *incredible*, Ryan Gosling is just fine. He's being nominated for the wrong film, goddammit.

- Final 15 minutes finally fulfilled, on some level, the movie's purpose and it's indeed a glorious coda, but I was left hungry for more.

- Obvious Hollywood humor is obvious, but I laughed throughout.

- Cinemascope joke was cute.

- This whole movie was cute, but I wanted something cuter.

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