Damien Chazelle’s bitter-sweet love letter to the city of Los Angeles, the golden era of Hollywood musicals and the visual flair of French maestro Jacques Demy, is beyond glorious. It’s a perfect confection with medicinal properties! Mia (Stone) is an aspiring actress, barely holding down a day job on a studio lot while juggling auditions for second-rate parts. Sebastian (Gosling) is a pianist who struggles to keep his job at a family restaurant where he plays freewheeling jazz instead of stale, cheesy favourites. Their fleeting first encounter during a traffic jam on an LA fly-over ripples with tension and holds little promise. (The opening sequence alone is a rapturous homage to West Side Story via 8½.) But after a series of blunders and mishaps, romance blooms.
Stone and Gosling may well be the sprightliest pairing since Rogers and Astaire, and where Chazelle’s first feature Whiplash (LFF2014) left us breathless and immobile, La La Land sends the heart racing and will have you dancing out of the cinema. That said, it’s not all sugar and spice and happy-ever-after. There is a disconsolate undercurrent at the film’s emotional core – a clear recognition that ‘the chase’ sometimes takes you away from ‘the dream’. Reuniting composer Justin Hurwitz and editor Tom Cross, Chazelle’s virtuosic direction is amplified by superb choreography and design. And the dignified reaction of the film's cast and crew to the now infamous Best Picture mix-up at the Oscars 2017 only adds to the film's all-round warm and inclusive glow.