Ms. Stone, as aspiring actress Mia, plays a modern version of the old story of the young woman trying to break into movies (or television). In so doing, she has a series of more-or-less antagonistic encounters with pianist Sebastian (Mr. Gosling), who is a traditional jazz purist in a hip-hop world. After fate keeps bringing them together, they become interested in one another, and begin a relationship.
In the course of this relationship, they strike sparks off each other that result in significant changes to their lives: Sebastian takes a job with a band that doesn't quite play his kind of music in hopes that it will lead eventually to operating his own jazz club, and Mia takes to playwriting.
The story, by director Damien Chazelle, is engaging, and has some twists, including a bold ending, that take it out of the realm of cliché. The music, mostly by Justin Hurwitz, is pleasant, appropriate to the moods, and mostly forgettable. I did hear one person whistling "Mia and Sebastian's Theme," Sebastian's piano solo, but that's easiest to remember because it is reprised half a dozen times throughout the movie. The musical numbers are mostly fantasy interjections into reality, ranging from the kind of thing we always like to have happen (stalled drivers in a traffic jam getting out and dancing among the cars) to pure emotional interpretation (Seb and Mia's "dance among the stars" at Griffith Observatory). Several manage to grow organically out of the scene: leaving a party, Mia casually changes from her high heels into tap shoes, and she and Seb dance along the street.
The dancing is OK and fun, but not wonderful. There were a lot of quotes and references to famous dance numbers from past pictures (as there were in the sets, as well). Singing ditto, easy to listen to but not exciting. Of the two stars, Ms. Stone does most of the singing, in a high, rather breathy voice. It's only on her "big number," "The Fools Who Dream," that she opens up and sings with some real power.
One of the strongest parts of the film is actually the dialog. Seb has an excellent rant about what jazz is, which is followed later by his friend Keith (John Legend) challenging him, "How are you going to be a revolutionary if you're such a traditionalist? You hold on to the past, but jazz is about the future." Seb and Mia's big argument late in the film poses tough questions about life, goals, and intentions, before the inevitable degeneration into hurtfulness and resentment.
LA LA Land is a very enjoyable and intelligent updated homage to the Hollywood musical movies of the 1930's and 40's. If you care for that sort of thing, this is your cup of tea. If you have no experience of those films, you might still like it.
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