City of Angels

Photos by Dale Robinette, courtesy of Lionsgate

Have you had a rough 2016? La La Land is the perfect palate cleanser. A romantic musical directed by Damien Chazelle (of Whiplash fame), La La Land tells the story of aspiring actress Mia (Emma Stone) and devoted jazz pianist Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) as they meet, fall in love, and chase their dreams in the City of Angels. The movie is currently in limited release (you can see it locally at Regal Shadowood 16 in Boca Raton) ahead of a nationwide release Christmas Day. But it’s already a critical darling and favorite to win Best Picture at The Oscars. Here, are five reasons why La La Land should top your must-see list this holiday and award season.

1. The Music. This one’s a no-brainer. La La Land is, after all, a modern movie musical. But its soundtrack trades typical tropes for playful melodies, jazz-inspired earworms, and heartbreaking requiems to lost love. Its most reused refrain, “City of Stars,” acts as a gentle tug back to the feeling of discovering an admiration that creates singularity within a huge metropolis. What Gosling and Stone lack in vocal virtuosity they make up for in emotion and natural ability. Gosling lends a charming grizzle while Stone presents an endearing airiness—and it’s all so real and effective. Almost a week after seeing the film, I’m still humming “City of Stars” and hearing their voices echo in my head.

2. The Dancing. When a movie opens with hundreds of joyous drivers cartwheeling across a sea of traffic-jammed cars, you know you’re in for some killer dance numbers. While La La Land is heavily indebted to Fred Astair and Ginger Rogers—and there is plenty of tap dancing—it also features a heavenly waltz through the stars and a cramped romp through an apartment, a moment reminiscent of the famous “I Feel Pretty” scene in West Side Story. Chazelle worked with choreographer Mandy Moore to build a pastiche of references that feels fresh, light, and utterly intoxicating.

3. The Costumes. I melt for a twirl-worthy dress. I swoon for two-tone shoes. I adore vintage clothing made modern, and that abounds in La La Land. One of the reasons this film succeeds is because it tempts nostalgia without falling into twee territory, and I think the costuming has a lot to do with that. While Stone’s outfits lend themselves to 1950s-esque dance breaks, they still fit in at an L.A. industry party firmly planted in 2016. And while Gosling’s garb reeks of the Rat Pack, it still highlights his modern good looks. I mean, the man can rock a suit. That’s just a fact.

4. The Setting. Beyond Stone’s Mia and Gosling’s Sebastian, the city of Los Angeles is truly Chazelle’s main character. The camera visits many well-known L.A. sites, from film sets to the Griffith Observatory and all the theaters, bars, audition rooms, and megamansions in between. At each, the cinematography lends a dreamy aura to the grime of city life, romanticizing the location while still stressing the difficulties of trying to make it big in a competitive environment. At some points, the city seems to be a foe. At others, it’s a friend. For Mia and Sebastian, it represents a playground of possibilities that infuriates, excites, and propels them toward their goals.

5. The Love Story. I first came to appreciate Stone and Gosling’s onscreen chemistry in 2011’s Crazy, Stupid, Love. In that under-the-radar comedy, their quirky camaraderie is at once electric and lighthearted. They bring that same essence to La La Land, but they’ve matured. There are stakes to their relationship this time around, and that imbues the film with a devastating reality. While the classic movies this film pays homage to tend to end with “boy and girl fall in love, live happily ever after,” La La Land asks, “But what if it’s not that simple?” Intentions blur. Aspirations get in the way. Circumstances change. The love may still be there, but sometimes the timing is just off. Together, Stone and Gosling flirt with forever with unparalleled charm, making La La Land a film you’ll want to fall in love with again and again.

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