LA LA LAND

Empire (UK) - - CONTENTS - IAN FREER

Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling. How are they not the new UN Peace­keep­ing Force?

DI­REC­TOR Damien Chazelle CAST Emma Stone, Ryan Gosling, John Leg­end, J.K. Sim­mons

PLOT Fol­low­ing a soul­less LA party, wannabe ac­tress Mia (Stone) meets frus­trated jazz pi­anist Seb (Gosling) in a bar. The pair get to­gether and their fu­ture looks set, un­til Seb lands a lu­cra­tive gig with an old mu­si­cian buddy (Leg­end), an of­fer that tests the strength of the cou­ple’s bond and dreams.

PURE UNADUL­TER­ATED JOY is in short sup­ply these days, both on the big screen and off. Which makes Damien Chazelle’s ir­re­sistible La La Land all the more cher­ish­able. More than just a throw­back to MGM mu­si­cals, it is a funny Valen­tine to the en­tire his­tory of the genre, as light on its feet as Fred As­taire, as big in its heart as Judy Gar­land. Just as Chazelle’s

Whiplash was in­tense, La La Land, es­pe­cially in its first half, is footloose (not Footloose) and

fancy-free, buoyed by a clutch of great new songs (take a bow Justin Hur­witz, Benj Pasek and Justin Paul) and car­ried by the chem­istry of Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling.

The movie gets a lot of flavour from its twisted her­itage. It is a US in­die do-over of a French New Wave take on a clas­sic Amer­i­can genre, part New York, New York, part The

Um­brel­las Of Cher­bourg, part Sin­gin’ In The Rain. A big­ger-bud­geted up­grade on Chazelle’s mu­si­cal short Guy And Made­line On A Park Bench, the story — as­pir­ing ac­tress Mia (Stone) meets jazz pi­anist Seb (Gosling), and sparks fly un­til ca­reer as­pi­ra­tions get in the way — is sim­plic­ity it­self, en­livened by some Pulp Fic­tion-es­que nar­ra­tive tricksi­ness. The film’s capri­cious ge­nius is present in its open­ing se­quence. On pa­per, the idea of an LA free­way traf­fic jam burst­ing out into song and dance sounds up there with root-canal work but here, as a soli­tary singer snow­balls into the world’s best flash mob per­fectly cap­tured by Chazelle’s sin­u­ous cam­era, it’s a riot of colour and eu­pho­ria. Sub­se­quently Chazelle fully em­braces the corny (Mia and Seb lit­er­ally dance among the stars, at the Grif­fith Ob­ser­va­tory or singing un­der street­lights), but for all the film’s love of retro, it’s not dusty. Chazelle’s stag­ing (check out the 2:52: 1 ul­tra-widescreen) and wit make the vin­tage feel new.

Much of this bright, shiny qual­ity is also down to its leads. Fol­low­ing pair­ings in Crazy Stupid

Love and Gang­ster Squad, Stone and Gosling have chem­istry and charisma to spare. It would be easy to di­min­ish Mia as a bright-as-a-but­ton type, but Stone spools through many colours, from lu­mi­nous to spir­ited to dis­traught — her wist­ful ren­di­tion of bal­lad Au­di­tion (The Fools Who

Dream) (writ­ten for the film) will be mur­dered by The X Fac­tor con­tes­tants for years to come. If Stone is the film’s heart, Gosling is the soul, caught be­tween art and com­merce, as moody as the genre will al­low (he is also not afraid to look ridicu­lous, play­ing A-ha on a key­tar). The pair are not the world’s great­est dancers but they are hav­ing so much fun do­ing it, you will too.

It’s per­haps a tad over­long and, em­broiled in the in­die drama of Seb and Mia’s re­la­tion­ship, almost for­gets to be a mu­si­cal dur­ing the fi­nal third. But this doesn’t de­tract from the film’s mighty charms. A film about love made with love, it’s hard to imag­ine any 2017 movie will leave you on a higher high.

VER­DICT Au­da­cious, retro, funny and heart­felt, La La Land is the lat­est great mu­si­cal for peo­ple who don’t like mu­si­cals. The new dream team of Chazelle, Stone and Gosling will slap a milewide smile across the most mis­er­able of faces.

Who doesn’t en­joy pre­tend­ing to be a plane?

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