Sometimes I twirl my hair and daydream about Ryan Gosling. He has become that icon of a man on which many of us imprint ideas of a “perfect man,” which of course, does not exist. In La La Land, Gosling plays Sebastian and Emma Stone, plays Mia. Reuniting since Crazy, Stupid, Love, they are a box office surefire bet in this already buzzy film. Directed by young Damien Chazelle, La La Land is this make-believe world packed in a shiny, beautiful world where people are attractive and sing and dance. It makes you feel good with a heavy dose of nostalgia. Despite its appeal, especially during the Christmas time, the razzle dazzle of La La Land is unfortunately devoid of substance underneath its appealing gloss; like a beautiful confection that falls flat once you taste it.
The film centers around the story of Mia, a struggling actress in L.A. — yes, I know, sounds like a familiar story already — and her encounter with Sebastian. A love affair quickly happens between the two, among the twinkle-in-the-eyes romance there are plenty of song and dance numbers here and there that, while enjoyable, are not memorable. The scenes follow one another like a wonderful montage nostalgic for the golden era of musicals of the ’40s and ’50s. I love to indulge in a good classic musical, and I also enjoy Broadway a fair amount, which is why I was disappointed by La La Land, which did not bring anything original or new to the genre but felt commercially safe. At their best, musicals use music and dancing to convey meanings that go beyond the script. Here, the numbers are enjoyable and playful but hardly transcendent.
The story of Mia is interesting in itself but has been tried already. The young struggling actress, who happens to be a barista, is in pursuit of success but in the meantime finds love. Whether to choose love or success is at the core of this character. Stone looks dazzling in a yellow dress, made for twirling and dancing, surely. The actress is also charming as ever and believable as a flirty yet innocent character. On the other hand, Sebastian is a jazz musician, a purist who would rather pursue his art fully but has to make ends meet and makes do by playing popular songs at a restaurant. Both Stone and Gosling deliver excellent performances within the world that Chazelle has laid out. However, I have witnessed both actors in better roles deliver outstanding performances. Still, they are both charming and entertaining and in better form during the speaking scenes than the singing and dancing numbers.
Cinematically, the film delivers some gorgeous shots with widescreen pans that showcase Los Angeles as an idyllic place. The always perfect weather and palm trees are cause for admiration in Chazelle’s treatment, and even the all-annoying traffic gets the beautified treatment with a musical number splashed in for good measure. In all, La La Land is a crowd pleaser. The film is a fine way to be entertained and pass the time during the Holiday season, but it’s not much more than the stocking stuffer of awards season.
La La Land runs 128 minutes and is rated PG-13. It opens in our South Florida area and across the U.S. in select theaters. For screenings near you, visit this link. Lionsgate invited us to a preview screening for the purpose of this review.