Since they first lit up Hollywood in 2011’s Crazy Stupid Love it’s been common knowledge that Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone have great screen chemistry. Without them 2013’s Gangster Squad may not have been made and would certainly have had even less to recommend it. La La Land, their third feature together and writer-director Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash follow up, also features the glorious and striking casting combo of Gosling and Rosemarie DeWitt. The ever-underrated DeWitt appears as Gosling’s sister in an all-too-brief early scene filled with snappy, snarky sibling repartee.
La La Land contains many glorious surprises, especially for musical cynics (just get through the opening number, “Another Day of Sun”. The rest of the film doesn’t resemble a United Colors of Benetton ad, I promise). Chazelle expertly redeploys conventions yet it’s the well-written characters leant originality by Gosling and especially Stone that get under the skin. Ultimately, though increasingly joyful to watch, it’s a bittersweet, melancholic story that proffers rather tragic insights about the struggle to balance relationships with personal ambition.
Chazelle’s eye for observation also gifts us a hysterical mini set piece in which Emma Stone dances and melodramatically lip syncs to Flock of Seagulls’ “I Ran (So Far Away)”, exhibiting the kind of clutsy comedy she excelled at in early projects, including Superbad and Easy A. Stone gets a big emotional song too, in the form of a musical audition scene (this was the moment at which I finally surrendered and admitted to myself I was watching a musical and loving it).
A superlative musical with an addictive soundtrack, La La Land is a modern day answer to Alan Parker’s Fame (1980), albeit with glossier production value and more infectious fun than teen angst. Still, it’s more cynical than it’s being given credit for, and is all the stronger for it.