Written and directed by Damien Chazelle, LA LA LAND centers on Mia (Emma Stone), an actress still waiting for her break, and Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), a brilliant jazz pianist who dreams of opening up his own club where great jazz musicians will make beautiful music and patrons will learn about and celebrate the art form. After repeatedly running into each other in a Los Angeles that's presented in full old-school Hollywood glory, they succumb to the inevitability of their love affair. But they soon discover, as many young lovers have before them, how challenging it is to maintain a relationship even as you try to find your place in this world. J.K. Simmons, Rosemaire DeWitt and John Legend co-star.
For a film that starts with a slightly campy musical number that could alienate viewers just as easily as charm them, this romance sure makes the leap to greatness quickly. Within minutes of that song, it's apparent how different La La Land is, starting with Stone, who inhabits Mia so fully that even though she's a successful actress portraying a struggling one, we forget she's acting. Even when she breaks into song, it's rooted in a place so convincing that it almost makes sense she'd be communicating in melody. Her joy feels like music; her sadness feels like a lament. Gosling is perhaps a little less striking, but not for lack of charm or authenticity; ultimately, he holds his own. And, paired together, they're the star-crossed lovers that a film like this richly deserves.
Beyond the chemistry of its stars and a brilliant score, La La Land has the one element that's essential to a nearly perfect movie: a script that manages to take a well-worn theme -- boy meets girl, boy and girl fall in love, boy and girl discover that loving someone doesn't solve everything -- and make it feel new. And not just new, but also heartbreakingly wise (we can't say much more for fear of spoilers). La La Land is also an ode to Los Angeles; the city unfurls in all its Technicolor glory. Perhaps the look and feel are what bring out the melancholy in the film's story. You need light to find the darkness -- and the darkness to appreciate what's bright. La La Land will take your breath away and break your heart, even as it helps you find an even deeper capacity for love.