Movie Review: La La Land

Ten Ways You Can Tell If You’re a Character in a Musical

1. When you burst into song, passersby either smile approvingly or join in. No one calls the authorities.

2. When you start to dance, passersby may join in and even do gymnastics around you.

3. If you reach out your hand during a dance number, often a cane or top hat will spontaneously leap into it.

4. If you use a hat to gesture with during a dance number, no errant gust of wind will snatch it.

5. If someone asks, “What’s that?” they do not mean the music starting up out of nowhere.

6. If you perform in public, you may be offered a bouquet of flowers by a complete stranger as a prop.

7. If you perform in the middle of the street, you never have to worry about getting hit by a vehicle.

8. If you are wearing high heels to dance on the street, you never accidentally step in gum or worse.

9. If you’re wearing a skirt, it will only expose your underwear for a second, even if someone flips you upside down.

10. If you and your partner find a place after hours to dance, you won’t set off any pesky alarms.

Most of these things occur in “La La Land,” with the added menace that good old-fashioned musicals never had to worry about: i.e. the interrupting of a dance number by cell phone. This happens, but only once when leads Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone are performing on an abandoned bluff, complete with a star spangled sky and little smog. While Ryan plays an aspiring jazz pianist who’s stuck cranking out Christmas tunes in bars, Emma plays an aspiring actress who works in a coffee shop for her day job and isn’t having much luck landing roles. They first see each other after a rousing dance number in which everyone gets out of their traffic-stalled cars to cavort, but it’s only after a series of not-so-cute meets that they actually start talking to each other. At first, the viewer may be forgiven for assuming the entire film is going to be sung, but eventually, the characters communicate in a more standard movie way.

Because Ryan isn’t thrilled about having to play keyboard in an eighties’ cover band, and Emma isn’t enthused about auditions that literally last a minute, they both feel discouraged, but try to bolster each other’s dreams. Ryan is passionate about jazz, considering it the future, but eventually accepts a friend’s offer to join his jazz-ish blues band which means he has to tour. Cracks start to appear in their relationship, as time goes on (the movie takes place over a year), and they start to question their futures. I won’t spoil the ending, just mention that it takes a route to get there that you probably won’t expect. Emma once starred in a teen movie called “Easy A,” where she performed a musical number in the school gymnasium; she was excellent then and equally good in “La La Land.” Ryan is similarly terrific, and the movie is worth seeing (it’s up for an Oscar). It might also be described as “Café Society,” which appeared earlier last year, only without the director’s personal issues intruding.

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