Bursting with chutzpah and a near relentless drive to leave you breathless, La La Land is something special. With artfully uplifting highs and bold cinematic gestures, it’s as audacious as anything at the movies in recent memory. Director Damien Chazelle has created a musical that exists with one foot in the real world and the one in the stylized, swaying its body back and forth between the two to divine effect. Its musical numbers are like if those late-90s Gap commercials also thrived on thematic context and narrative perspective – the smile on your face may be stupid, but the film isn’t.
Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling star as showbiz dreamers and Los Angeles transplants that fall in love before becoming disillusioned with both. As their career compromises don’t match the ideal, the honeymoon of young love naturally also becomes strained. For all of the film’s exclamation point positivity, it does exist in a world that tells us we can have love or career, but getting neither is even more likely. For La La Land, optimism can be both naive and necessary sustaining force.