La La Land ****1/2

4.5 out of 5 stars

Writer-director Damien Chazelle returns, after the incredible Whiplash on which I gushed over 2 years ago, with a romantic musical starring Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone. Glowing reviews since the film’s debut at the festival circuit only elevated expectations even more and so it is with some trepidation that I venture into this film. However from the moment the film opens with a tone-setting retro chic musical number set on a traffic jammed LA highway that will melt the hardest of hearts and bring a smile to the grumpiest of faces, I know that I have been worrying needlessly. La La Land is a faithful, uncynical, assured and effective take on the musical genre. Keeping the story simple  – boy (a Jazz pianist with big dreams) meets girl (an aspiring actress), fall in love, obstacles arise – set to some of the catchiest tunes you’ll hear this or any year, the only word that comes to mind is: Magical. Chazelle’s direction is slick and effortless; the pacing is perfect. Shooting it as if we still live in the Golden age of Hollywood in the 50s, the only thing that betrays this timelessness is the existence of mobile phones, the musical numbers are staged with meticulous precision and beautifully composed takes (no MTV style cuts here) that allow the actors to shine and shine they do. I could criticize Stone & Gosling’s first duet sounds a little shaky but by the time City of Lights and Audition, two songs for which we might as well give them the Oscars for Best Song now; they are just heartbreakingly good. With two solid gold performances from the leads and impressive visuals that’s a feast for the eyes, had the film followed that with a traditionally crowd pleasing ending, this would easily be a 4 star movie. But just when I settle in for this inevitability, he pulls out one final inspired move, with a melancholic and bittersweet ending that provides surprising depth and insight, gaining at least an extra 1/2 star and leaving me breathless and grinning like a lovesick fool as I skip out of the cinema. Following in the steps of An American in Paris, Singing in the Rain and The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, this has ‘Classic’ written all over it and proves that you can still make movies like they used to. All you need is talent, conviction and a whole lot of passion.

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