As indicated by the title, “La La Land” is the first big-screen musical to arrive in quite some time.  The story centers on the meeting of aspiring actress Mia (Emma Stone) and jazz pianist Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) as they both struggle to pursue their dreams of becoming big shots in Los Angeles and become romantically involved.  Once they arrive there, however, they both face obstacles that hinder their individual pathways to success and put their delicate love affair at risk.  As they reach their triumphs, Sebastian and Mia must choose between what is more important in their lives: fame and success or romantic aspirations.  


This picture written and directed by Damien Chazelle (“Whiplash”) carries the traditional aspects of many of the classic movie musicals and puts a fresh spin on them, from the classic boy-meets-girl love story and elaborate choreography to the pastel-colored costumes and evocative lighting.  At the same time, however, the film keeps itself up-to-date by reflecting on the realistic struggles Sebastian and Mia go through in their careers, with the former’s traditional jazz sensibilities clashing with the sounds of modernity and the latter attending audition after audition.  Easily the standout sequences include a Griffith Observatory montage and the splendid finale, brimming with color and reminiscent of “Singin’ in the Rain” and “An American in Paris.”  The songs and score, composed by Justin Hurwitz, evoke memories of Hollywood’s Golden Age and its memorable musical numbers by Rodgers & Hart and Comden & Green.  The opening number, Another Day of Sun (preceded by the ‘50s CinemaScope logo), gives the audience a clear idea of what they’re in for by transporting them back to the days of Gene Kelly when song-and-dance routines were routine, even in the middle of a traffic jam.  All of these significant features and more add to the power of what great musical cinema can convey.        


Gosling and Stone have a natural chemistry on par with that of Fred and Ginger, especially during their dance numbers.  They also have such beautiful singing voices, and this is most prominent in the recurring musical motif City of Stars. John Legend, Rosemarie DeWitt, and J.K. Simmons deliver effective supporting performances, but it is Stone and Gosling who are truly front-and-center.  Even their dialogue feels succinctly believable, despite (or rather, because of) their song-and-dance tendencies.  Stone, in particular, has an especially distinguishable screen presence that puts her in the same league as Judy Garland, while Gosling seems like the modern-day reincarnation of many of our favorite song-and-dance men from the Golden Age.  


In what has been a tumultuous year, “La La Land” serves as both a bright spot and a fantastic tribute to the movie musicals of days gone by.


**** “Ya-stars”


Video Review: La La Land