Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone: Waiting for the music to break out
Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone: Waiting for the music to break out

As we enter Trumpland, the American elite who select and crown the Oscars seem to have embraced diversity – and to leave audiences with feel-good applause for a movie that breaks all barriers but is, in the end, a musical-comedy with bitter edges.

And yet La La Land (that niche where we all feel safely at home with our books and kittens) took so long to make that its brilliance (14 Oscar nominations) can easily be overwhelmed by what is in truth a truly escapist ending in which traditional romance is blatantly just another dreamscape for the ascendant stars – singer Mia (Emma Stone) and pianist Sebastian (Ryan Gosling). They succeed — but the film’s intricacy keeps its focus on a simple theme: if you struggle heroically, then become famous (or simply known) that, too, can break your heart.

This places full responsibility on Mia and Seb (as she calls him). Yet this cannot be termed a true narrative: it’s too simple, and musical numbers burst forth wherever they may be in Los Angeles (heartland of hope). It’s not a favoured genre – yet the film has soared above others, perhaps giving the superheroes a break from muscles and bosoms. But you have to love the medium and have a working knowledge to catch innumerable allusions to its past glories (the time is mainly the present). Not all will grasp this, wondering why the music seems — and is — retrogressive.

Chazelle laboured to get the movie made, "to take the old musical but ground it in real life where things don’t exactly work out". For Seb this means transforming his genius for classic jazz into cumulative fads to suit the bands that actually pay him. Mia turns into a celebrity — and their early love is ruined by the long separation between their careers. By the end, Mia is married and has a daughter; any further than that and we would be on adultery turf: a wrong move for 2017.

La La Land is a must-see. All that difficult work behind the scenes to lend authenticity to the emotional outbursts we witness between Mia and Seb is on show, transporting us to joy. That is, if you are feeling downbeat and adore — crave — the musical.

La La Land
Written and directed by Damien Chazelle

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