La La Land

LA LA LAND. Starring: Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, and John Legend. Directed by Damien Chazelle. Rated M (Coarse language). 128 mi

This American, romantic musical comedy-drama tells the story of an aspiring actress and a talented, ambitious musician who fall in love in Los Angeles. The name of the movie symbolises being out of touch with reality, but it is also a nickname for the city of Los Angeles, USA. It was voted as one of the top 10 films in 2016 by the National Board of Review of Motion Pictures, and could well be a serious contender for an Oscar in 2017 when nominations are announced.

The film freely mixes realistic and fantasy sequences. Mia (Emma Stone) wants to be a actress, and accepts the fact at first that she serves cups of coffee to movie stars on a Warner Bros. movie lot in Los Angeles. While in LA, she falls in love with Sebastien, a jazz musician who plays music in down-and-out, and slightly up-market, bars. Mia wants to become a serious actress, and Sebastien wants to buy and manage his own club.

As success comes to each of them in different ways, their dreams begin to look unsteady, and the aspirations they both have forged together start to threaten the love that exists in the relationship they have formed. Sebastien joins a successful music band headed by Keith (John Legend), for example, which causes long separations from each other, and that creates problems for them both.

The movie is directed with consummate craftsmanship. It has a great musical jazz soundtrack, and captures brilliantly the nostalgia of a bygone age of Hollywood musical films. Gosling and Stone break into dance at almost every opportunity, reminding one of Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire in films like "The Barkleys of Broadway" (1949), and Gene Kelly in "Singing in the Rain" (1952). The film is unabashedly designed to please, and this is a movie that is impossible not to like. The story is both funny and sad, and the film has dance routines that are staged highly imaginatively.

The film's innovative opening sequence shows a heavily crowded freeway in LA that has traffic stopping on the cluttered road. People are listening to different music in their cars. They suddenly get out of their cars, break into song, dance together, and become participants in a giant, musical production number. Scenes such as this one make the film very different, and very original.

The movie is a regression to the classical musical films of the past, but is given a modern edge: dreams lie unfilled, and dramatic moments highlight the disappointments of life as well as life's moments of joy, happiness, and success. But for all of the film's smartness of execution (it uses rapid editing, and lots of effective slow motion), its trip to the past diverts the viewer from facing major realities of the future. The film's nostalgia is for a bygone era that has passed by.

The movie innovatively demonstrates the clash between romanticism and realism, but basically opts for staying romantic. The result is enjoyable, but the film beguiling mixes cynicism with good intent, and is caught up in the pleasure of a mood that fails to resolve itself. Fabulous music and choreography take over when the drama gets too sensitive, and songs are sung that capture emotions that the characters don't verbalise. The film comes together in one escapist final scene, choreographed around what might have been, that aims to leave the viewer on an emotional high. Breezy light music and dancing are everywhere, while the drama of real life happily skips by.

This is a highly entertaining movie that is directed, acted and photographed as a movie to enjoy. It is hard to come out of the cinema without feeling better about life after seeing this movie, but one knows that there are things lurking in the corner of life, as it were, waiting to come out when the good feelings disappear. But such is the magic of cinema that this movie catches you up in its energy. The deftness of its combination of fantasy and reality is exciting to watch, and very alluring.

Peter W. Sheehan is Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting

Entertainment One Films

Released December 26, 2016

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