The self-consciously old-fashioned La La Land (itself an out-of-date derisive nickname for L.A.) aims to entertain and seduce, leavening its pretty people, twilight set pieces and soft-shoe dance numbers with a splash of melancholy. Los Angeles might be a town of dreamers, but plenty of those dreams get busted.
Our two dreamers are Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), a jazz purist who wants to open a nightclub, and Mia (Emma Stone), an aspiring actress. Told in seasonal chapters (another L.A. joke — what seasons?), the two meet cute and fall in love, while enjoying such postcard-ready locations as Griffith Park, the Angels Flight funicular and Watts Tower. Then there are the speed bumps when their career goals imperil the romance. (There are few places on Earth where attendance at someone’s one-man theatrical event is a deal-breaker; this is one of them.)
Chazelle, who has lightened up since 2014’s Whiplash, tips his hat frequently to old Hollywood. There are the film’s obvious antecedents (MGM show-biz musicals, Jacques Demy’s The Umbrellas of Cherbourg); hokey production techniques like montages of neon signs; and sets littered with assorted Hollywood iconography.
Yet for all the looks back to classic Hollywood romance, Chazelle finds some freshness, without resorting to irony or slavish pastiche. Honestly, it might just be that nobody bothers to make winsome escapism musicals aimed to delight anymore. Gosling and Stone are adorable; they comport themselves well enough at singing and dancing, and the effervescence of the work gives their somewhat amateurish routines a shaggy charm.
Although I’m not a big fan of musicals, I enjoyed La La Land, in part because I get all the homage. (I once wasted 100 pages deconstructing classic musicals, so this is like slipping on a comfy old shoe.) I’m not as giddy about it as some, but it was wholly enjoyable and charming, and a better way than many to close out this long shrill year.
Starts Sun., Dec. 25