“La La Land,” which is showing now at the Toronto film festival, knocks you out right from the start. The opening scene zooms in on Los Angeles gridlock, where the drivers suddenly burst into song, and before you know it there’s a dance number right on the freeway. Twirls, flips, all with an up-tempo melody.
You’re instantly placed into a world where anything can (and will) happen. And it’s all from the mind of Damien Chazelle, the director of the 2014 indie hit “Whiplash,” leaning on inspiration from great musicals of the past.
“Whiplash” showed the dark side of music, as a drummer (Miles Teller) is pushed to the breaking point to become great. Here, Chazelle gives us the beauty of music and movies combined, very much a forgotten genre in Hollywood.
You can’t peg “La La Land” as just a musical, because it’s more than that. Though there are dance numbers and top-notch singing performances by leads Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, the movie is also a moving love story.
Musicals often strip away the character development and story to get to the musical numbers. Chazelle, who also wrote the script, perfectly distills a dramatic narrative about a jazz piano player (Gosling) and a struggling actress’ (Stone) relationship over a year while devising some of the best musical numbers you’ve seen in a long time that aren’t catered to your grandmother.
The chemistry between Gosling and Stone is nothing new. They pulled it off perfectly in the movie “Crazy, Stupid, Love” (we’ll forget about “Gangster Squad“). But the two actors here also show their musical chops – from singing and dancing to Gosling playing the piano. If you’re thinking, “That sounds fun,” well yes, it is.
The fall and winter movie seasons are typically rife with depressing dramas, so “La La Land” is a welcome sight. It’s filled with color and energy.
Chazelle proves that like jazz, the musical is timeless and can always be appreciated when it’s done the right way.
“La La Land” is currently playing at the Toronto International Film Festival and will be in theaters on December 2.