Are Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling boring yet? Well. No. They have as much on-screen chemistry as ever – and of a Hepburn-Tracy variety, which is well suited to this bantery, bouncy musical. La La Land, despite being something of a drama-dork’s ultimate romantic fantasy, handily delivers in the ways a musical would need to in order to survive the swim against the current movie market. It has pathos and charm, and the tunes are catchy as hell. It might stray into sappy a bit as it rifles through the Hollywood lexicon, but it stands on its own merits. This is a movie that embodies the love/hate romance that industry folk have with their profession.
Humble and even quaint might describe the main characters, as we meet them amidst a chorus of LA traffic. There is almost the impression that Stone (Mia) and Gosling (Seb) with their next-door looks, could have been settled on at random, as if anyone the camera landed on might just as easily produce a musical of such playful and wistful proportions. Almost, but not quite; Mia and Seb are destined for their dreams to tangle, and the movie isn’t about their struggle to succeed. It’s about the fact that they struggle together, and push each other to achieve things they may not have otherwise not considered possible before they met. Gosling’s character Seb lays things out the meta-message pretty plainly for us: Hollywood’s problem is that it “worships everything and values nothing.”
La La Land attempts to reclaim the value of what Hollywood has groomed for objectification – performers and artists, primarily, but the traditions and legends that come along with it – and it is the better for it, and is satisfying in its jaunty attempt. The world it introduces us to is a gently repurposed silver screen nostalgia peppered with modern trappings, but it doesn’t have the forced, disingenuous ring to it that so often accompanies “updates” on familiar entertainment tropes. It borrows heavily from classic movies, music, and their accompanying myths. Jazz figures prominently, and so does the bygone era of Hollywood to which jazz has so often lent an aesthetic. As Mia and Seb surrender to their passion for these cultural touchstones, and their drive to fulfill their dreams, the more they fold those dramatic elements and tropes into their own lives. This leads the two into a centripetal romance, the setting of which is a world smudged together out of Mia and Seb’s obsessions with movies, music, and an underlying dream of fulfilled artistry, purpose, and value. The result is a literal “lala land”, where integrity of the dream matters, and the players are writing their lives as they go along. Like Jazz. Or a one-woman show. The points at which the characters stop valuing their dreams and talents, the message is that success or failure is irrelevant. It is the dream, the song-and-dance, the romance of it all that makes Mia and Seb’s individual dreams worth pursuing, and it will make La La Land worth seeing for anyone in love with music or obsessed with classic Hollywood. The fun range of musical sequences, its visuals, and the appeal of its cast will make it worth seeing for anyone else.