From its first moment to its last, La La Land is so adorable that if it had physical form it would be hard to hold back from squeezing it. If its creative cuteness could be bottled, you’d fill a bath with it and slosh around in it until pruned beyond measure. The slightest prick of cynicism could burst its fantasy, but watched with kind eyes and full heart it’s as giddy and joyous as cinema gets.
In 2014, director Damien Chazelle made Whiplash, a small drama about a jazz band that he somehow turned into a thriller. This is a modest love story of everyday emotions that he’s made a heart-rending musical. It’s a tale of two people coming to LA to make their dreams come true. Mia (Emma Stone) wants to be an actress; Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) has his heart set on opening a jazz club. Hollywood doesn’t care what they want. In trying to find their dreams they find each other, but as their careers take different paths it’s not certain they’ll be able to keep a hold of one another.
The story is simple because the execution is lavish. This is a musical – maybe you hate musicals, but give it a shot – with one toe in Hollywood’s Golden Age and one in the present. Characters burst into song or a waltz through the stars, but Chazelle has sanded off a touch of the gloss. They sing in voices that sound untrained (until one showstopper of a solo) and their dance steps are enthusiastic but simple. It’s not a pastiche of old musicals but an attempt to capture the same spirit and giant emotions, which it does with eager hands.
As the lovers, Stone and Gosling are a dream. Such is their chemistry that it begins to feel almost intrusive watching them tap-dance their way through burgeoning love and over its rockier patches. Even when it’s sad, the whole thing is so cheering it should be prescribed on the NHS for the good of the national mood.