Brace yourselves because everything we heard about Damien Chazelle’s “La La Land” is true. The 31 year old director of “Whiplash” has whipped up what is likely to be an enormous box office hit and multiple award winner. Emma Stone is so sublimely fetching as Mia, and Ryan Gosling is such a great leading man in this tale of ill-fated romance that riffs on Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire musicals (as well as Woody Allen’s “Everyone Says I Love You”) that they each throw their hats into the Oscar race.
The mesmerizing, enchanting story of Mia — writer and aspiring actress–and jazz pianist Sebastian– is simultaneously old fashioned and contemporary. Chazelle sets them in a kind of ether– their cars suggest the 70s or early 80s but their music is big band and traditional jazz of the 30s, 40s, or 50s.(Three songs from the early 80s are included as reference points.)
In “La La Land,” rock and roll doesn’t exist, neither does anything that isn’t lushly orchestrated. A dozen or more original songs have been written by Chazelle’s collaborator and former Harvard roommate, Justin Hurwitz, that are bound for Oscar glory. Two of them, “City of Stars” and “Audition”- sung respectively by Gosling and Stone– are going to be heard regularly. Stone’s big moment singing “Audition” is like Jennifer Hudson in “Dreamgirls”–almost impossible to beat. Plus, John Legend, who’s credited an executive producer, appears in the movie as an actor and sings his new composition called “Start a Fire.” He is a revelation. The Interscope soundtrack is going to be for movie music what “Hamilton” has been for Broadway.
“La La Land” got some wild, long standing ovation last night, just as it did in Venice. It won’t be released until December 1st, but hang on — Chazelle has given us such a wonderful holiday present. More to come…
PS This is a Lions Gate movie, and should give a boost to that company’s drifting stock price.