La La Land (2016)

(On Cable TV, September 2017) I will always be receptive to a good old-school Hollywood musical, and La La Land does get started with a terrific freeway dance number that clearly sets the tone for what follows—a classic musical paying homage to Hollywood dreams without being bound to strict realism. Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone star as star-crossed artists who struggle to achieve their personal vision. Charming and likable like golden-era Hollywood stars, Gosling and Stone couldn’t be more suited for their roles as eager upstarts. Still, the real star here is writer/director Damien Chazelle, orchestrating a big musical with enough modern sensibilities to feel both timeless and contemporary. The dusk musical number (the film’s second-best highlight following the freeway opening number) is spectacular enough that I could have sworn it had been shot in-studio and heavily post-processed, but it turns out it was actually captured on location in few takes. More daringly, the film not only goes for a bittersweet ending in which our characters don’t necessarily end up together—but also shows us an alternate montage depicting what would have happened otherwise. I’m impressed but not entirely satisfied by that choice, something that is also true for the rest of the film: for all the crowd-pleasing moments, there are also odd choices and obsessions elsewhere. I’m getting too old and jaded to be swayed much by idealistic appeals to artistic purity, so a chunk of La La Land’s thematic appeal feels a bit jejune. But it is a film about ideals, and musicals don’t do well with pure realism (hence my ambivalence about the ending), so let’s enjoy the colours and the bounciness and the Hollywood satire and the idea that we’ve got such a film to tide us over in dour bleak 2017.

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