of Minnelli and vintage-Hollywood romanticism but is placed in a modern-day, distinctive, if slightly highly-pitched, L.A. (Priuses, smoggy sunsets, traffic jams, crudely painted murals of dead stars); it also veers from being Xanadu camp (or far worse, "Glee") through the kineticism of Chazelle's direction, the bittersweet realism of the storyline and the film's two disarmingly funny and charming leads (Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone). They've been paired before with dynamite results in Crazy, Stupid, Love. as one of that movie's few highlights, but here, they enter a territory that makes them an unforgettable cinematic duo. What makes them so great and appealing to my particular generation is that you can picture them wincing from that description and yet affably, accepting it.
Stone plays a Warner lot barista struggling to get callbacks from auditions including one that's "Dangerous Minds meets The O.C." Gosling is a pianist with a feverish passion for jazz who longs to open his own club. What ends up happening to these two characters unravels through a blissful pastiche of song and dance with an indelible score of songs by Justin Hurwitz and organic, not overly flashy, choreography by Mandy Moore (not to be confused with the pop singer / actress). There are homages to the heyday of Warner Brothers and MGM as these two try to realize their dreams, but the film restrains itself from being both overly varnished (like Baz Luhrmann) and overly saccharine. There are shaky, flawed moments here and there (anything involving the supporting players fizzles),
including an oddly-mounted party scene where Gosling plays in an 80s cover band and Stone sips from a can of Mountain Dew but those quibbles are ameliorated by so many fine moments and a particular stride in a paradoxical, brilliant coda where melancholic ache arises out of a re-telling of events with old-school, slapsticky fanfare. By the time we reach the end, we've made a journey--a far cry from the opening, 90s Gap-ad-like sunshiny traffic jam dance tune, into something more sobering and yet uplifting at the same time.
La La Land hits a sweet spot, I think, at the end of a long, draining year of American tumult and division when many of us aren't feeling that optimistic. So sometimes the arrival of an artistic crowdpleaser feels like one of our country's few miracles to hang on to. Here's to the mess these artists make. ****