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Film Review: La La Land (2016)

Director Damien Chazelle’s follow-up to the intense and energetic 2014 film Whiplash is his dip-dyed, romantic ode to classic musicals. La La Land stars Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone as a jazz musician and aspiring actress who meet and fall in love in Hollywood. The film is a colour-saturated daydream that evokes an older and purer time by use of setting, colour, and costume, yet also has iPads and Priuses. Such is the contradiction of Los Angeles, which is called "La La Land" colloquially and thus provides the film with its title while also referring to a state of dreamhood. Dreams and dreamers prove to be a huge theme in La La Land as the movie takes an unabashedly uncynical view on those who dream and create.

La La Land is another knock-out by the hugely gifted Chazelle, who channels his love of jazz music and classic movies into a moving love story with breathtaking set pieces and a strong display of technical prowess, that builds on his previous work in Whiplash. The visuals are outstanding, especially the sets for the musical numbers, and the original songs performed by the leads are instant earworms. There are more than a few astounding long takes with carefully choreographed dances and deftly performed emotional beats as Stone and Gosling pull triple-duty by doing all their own singing, dancing, and acting. Gosling also plays the piano convincingly well and the duo dance beautifully à la classic icons Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire.

In terms of character, the tall, cool, implacable Gosling plays an intense jazz dork with no qualms about speaking his mind, even when it lands him in trouble. The compelling, emotive, and vivacious Stone is excellent as a talented but perennially overlooked and beaten-down actress and scriptwriter. The two lovers support each other in their creative pursuits until the trajectory of their careers pull them apart. Gosling and Stone, who worked together previously in Crazy, Stupid, Love and in Gangster Squad, effortlessly sweep the viewer up in the story between their two flawed but admirable characters. Their performances also ground the movie in its more fanciful, song-and-dance parts, which, for the genre, are used sparingly and effectively.

As a winningly heartfelt and absolutely beautiful love letter to music, movies, and shared passions, La La Land evokes everything that Hollywood loves. After the recent announcement for TIFF’s People’s Choice Award, expect to see Chazelle, Gosling, and Stone on the road to the Oscars!

Rating: 5 out of 5 loud, insistent, distinctive car horns

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