"Is it too nostalgic? Are people gonna like it?" Such is the worry of actress and playwright Mia, as she prepares her one woman show. But this line in Damien Chazelle's "La La Land" could also be anticipating the inevitable critical response to this film. Indeed, Chazelle goes unabashedly retro in this delightful musical set in the city of stars.
"La La Land" is the story of Mia (Emma Stone) and Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), a pair of struggling artists trying to make it in Los Angeles. The former is an actress going from audition to audition with little success. The latter is a jazz musician with bigger aspirations than the generic lounge tunes he's stuck playing. By sheer serendipity, the two seem to constantly run into each other, until eventually decide to date. But will their love survive as they pursue their dreams?
And as Chazelle charts the course of their romance, "La La Land" proves to be a great showcase for his growth as a director. Interestingly, many mistook his breakthrough film "Whiplash" as his debut feature. But upon viewing "La La Land", it's clear that his actual debut "Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench" is the truer reflection of his directorial voice. That modest 2009 film was a charming musical romance that hinted at his old-school sensibilities, for which he will now be widely known for.
Of course, the Damien Chazelle of 2009 has evolved over the years. Now armed with a bigger budget and two of Hollywood's brightest stars, he has produced a grand, gorgeous ode to classic Hollywood and music. From the very first opening moments with its vintage CinemaScope title, "La La Land" recalls the great musicals of yesteryear. Scene after scene brings pure joy, with lovely original songs from Justin Hurwitz and breathtaking cinematography that casts Los Angeles in an inviting glow. And these scenes are fluidly edited, making the film feel as light on its feet as its two stars.
Speaking of the two stars, Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling really nail down the magic of classic Hollywood. In a role she was born to play, Stone puts her wide-eyed expressive face to good use, conveying all the necessary effervescence and vulnerability required. She's simply fantastic. Meanwhile, Gosling is a slick, cool cat as Sebastian, bringing effortless charm.
As Stone and Gosling sing and dance to their - and the audience's - hearts' content, "La La Land" sweeps you up with giddy delight and the cinematic beauty on display. As such, Oscar noms for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Original Screenplay, Best Editing, Best Original Score, Best Cinematography, Best Production Design and Best Sound Mixing are practically guaranteed. Is it too nostalgic? Perhaps. But I certainly liked it.