Eppler: "La La Land" a bittersweet love letter to Hollywood

Eppler: "La La Land" a bittersweet love letter to Hollywood

They don't make movies like "La La Land" anymore, and in some ways, they never did. It's a throwback to the golden age of big Hollywood musicals, but that nostalgia is infused with modern sensibilities - and not just in the funny way a cell phone ring interrupts a song and dance number. Woven into the boy meets girl musical fantasy is a cynical tale of 21st Century careerism: the pursuit of self-centered dreams above relationships.

This often lively, beautifully staged musical is directed by 31-year-old Damien Chazelle, whose last film was "Whiplash," a much less friendly movie about music. His ambition and inventiveness is on display in "La La Land's" opening scene - a big song and dance number involving hundreds of performers on a jammed LA freeway that's a dazzler. Several other early musical numbers impress, too. This is the most exciting work by a director for the year.

Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone are the lovers: He's a frustrated jazz pianist, she's an actress who can't catch a break. When they meet cute and fall in love, they push each other to pursue their art. But that drive turns to resentment as they come to realize the line between selling out and surviving is blurry.

The chemistry between Gosling and Stone practically sparks off the screen. She is especially mesmerizing - a perfectly rounded performance that just might break your heart. She should probably win an Oscar for it. But both are better actors than they are singers and dancers. Their voices are pleasant, but never impressive and the choreography is borderline amateurish (I swear I could see Gosling counting steps). But the charm of these scenes, the charisma of the actors, and Chazelle's inventive direction go a long way.

The movie sags a bit in the middle when the music recedes and the story meanders, but "La La Land" is still a thing of beauty to behold. And the ending is a brazen challenge to the audience only a confident filmmaker could pull off. It's a movie in love with movies and music. And that's contagious.

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