La La Land is the third film to romantically pair Gosling and Stone after Crazy, Stupid, Love and Gangster Squad, and that history of onscreen relationships fortifies their playful rapport: They make a couple you want to believe in.
“La La Land” is set in contemporary Los Angeles, but its heart and soul are rooted in the past, and so are its characters: Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), a sleek jazz pianist in silk ties who’s a cranky purist about what he listens to, what he plays, and where he plays it, and Mia (Emma Stone), an aspiring actress and playwright who’s deep into the magic of the old movie stars. These two meet, scuffle and fall in love.
The movie needs a complication, of course, and once Sebastian and Mia become a couple, the question arises: How are either of these people going to make good on their dream? Sebastian wants to open a club, but the kind of music he obsesses over is ripe for a museum.
La La Land centers on the conflict between Hollywood dreams and the reality of making art — not to mention a living in show business. The music stops (the needle actually comes to the end of a vinyl record) when Sebastian presses Mia to come with him to Boise, where he’s playing with a high-paying jazz-rock outfit. She shrugs him off. She has to stay in L.A. and finish an autobiographical monologue.
The astonishing thing is how the songs and dancing feel natural as breathing. Especially in two songs about dreams. One comes when Mia’s make-or-break audition melts into a wistful memory. The other comes when Sebastian sings about whether his wish for love will come true.
A film about love made with love, it’s hard to imagine any 2017 movie will leave you on a higher high.
P.S. For me, it was La La Land that won the Oscars.