La La Land

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis

La La Land

It just doesn’t get better than this. Everything we have read about La La Land has been positive but it’s hard to find words to describe being transported by a movie that gets everything right – and then some. This one is all heart.

The opening scene takes us to a fabled Hollywood traffic jam where aspiring young actors abandon their stuck cars to sing and dance away their frustration in a wild burst of freedom. It’s a scene from a ‘40s musical brought to astonishing life by modern technology and wild freedom. The vivid colors of the cars and clothes are the blast off for what’s to come.

Mia (Emma Stone) and Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) meet when she is drawn from the street by the sound of his piano in a club. Theirs becomes a love affair that deepens through their art and their understanding of what is important to both of them. Each wants to help the other to succeed in personal dreams.

For Sebastian, that dream is his own club where he can preserve old-fashioned jazz. For Mia it is to win acting parts through auditions. Each sees the flaws in the other’s imaginings, and with subtlety and affection they encourage each other to reexamine their goals. Nothing about their romance is fluffy or conventional.

If their ambitions are the theme, the magic is harder to describe. A big salute to Damien Chazelle who wrote and directed this gift of a picture that wraps up the year 2016 for Hollywood. Of all the mistakes waiting to happen, he made none.

If ordinary movie stars had been cast in Chazelle’s script, the movie would never have soared in such subtle ways. But here are Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, not glamorous actors in the conventional sense, each willing and thoroughly able to show their own vulnerabilities and those of their characters. They express it all through thoughtful conversations. And then they dance. Have you ever watched two people fall in love while dancing in the sky?

What sets the fire is that their romance is rooted in deep respect for each other while their dancing expresses their magnetism. They are supported by a vast cast that enlivens the whole story from beginning to end. J.K. Simmons, Rosemarie DeWitt, John Legend and multiple dozens of extras who caught the mood set by director Chazelle.

Odd? A Hollywood musical with a gentle, serious story at its core? That didn’t happen seventy years ago. And yes, the singing and dancing by Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling is all theirs, no subs. Gosling, who already played jazz guitar, learned to play the piano for this role and played all the piano parts himself. Damien Chazelle imagined this magic, and with his extraordinary cast turned it into a rare film that moves an audience into the realm of pure joy. And if that sounds sentimental, just go, and see how you feel when the final credits roll.