La La Land sends the spirit soaring

Uplifting cinema experience

This romantic musical comedy-drama tells the story of an aspiring actress and ambitious musician who fall in love in Los Angeles. The name of the movie symbolises being out of touch with reality, but it is also a nickname for the city of LA.

The film freely mixes realistic and fantasy sequences. Mia (Emma Stone) wants to be an actress, and accepts the fact at first that she serves cups of coffee to movie stars on a Warner Bros movie lot in Los Angeles. While in LA, she falls in love with Sebastien (Ryan Gosling), a jazz musician who plays music in down-and-out, and slightly up-market, bars. Mia wants to become a serious actress, and Sebastien wants to buy and manage his own club.

As success comes to each of them in different ways, their dreams begin to look unsteady, and the aspirations they both have forged together start to threaten the love that exists in the relationship they have formed. Sebastien joins a successful music band headed by Keith (John Legend), for example, which causes long separations from each other, and that creates problems for them both.

The movie is directed with consummate craftsmanship. It has a great musical jazz soundtrack, and captures brilliantly the nostalgia of a bygone age of Hollywood musical films. Gosling and Stone break into dance at almost every opportunity, reminding one of Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire in films like The Barkleys of Broadway (1949), and Gene Kelly in Singing in the Rain (1952). The film is unabashedly designed to please, and this is a movie that is impossible not to like. The story is both funny and sad, and the film has dance routines that are staged highly imaginatively.

The film's innovative opening sequence shows a heavily crowded freeway in LA that has traffic stopping on the cluttered road. People are listening to different music in their cars. They suddenly get out of their cars, break into song, dance together, and become participants in a giant, musical production number. Scenes such as this one make the film very different, and very original.

The movie is a regression to the classical musical films of the past, but is given a modern edge: Dreams lie unfilled, and dramatic moments highlight the disappointments of life as well as life's moments of joy, happiness, and success.

But for all of the film's smartness of execution (it uses rapid editing, and lots of effective slow motion), its trip to the past diverts the viewer from facing major realities of the future. The film's nostalgia is for a bygone era that has passed by.

This is a highly entertaining movie that is directed, acted, and photographed as a movie to enjoy. It is hard to come out of the cinema without feeling better about life.

- Reviewed by Peter Sheehan, ACOFB

La La Land Starring: Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, and John Legend. Directed by Damien Chazelle. Rated M (Coarse language). 128 min.