I see you resisting and reaching for your earplugs. Have faith. Though it indulges in musical-lover catnip, lifting bits from Fred & Ginger tap dance movies to 1960s French operettas, La La Land's metronome ticks back to reality at the all right moments. About halfway through the movie, after a meet-cute duet and a dance among the Griffith Observatory's stars, our star pair falls back into a pleasant rhythm. Thanks to Gosling and Stone's chemistry, previously ignited in Crazy, Stupid, Love, you could bask in it.
Then Chazelle changes keys. Love starts looking like sacrifice to two people who thought they knew what they wanted. For a stretch, the flashy numbers disappear, replaced with pensive piano tunes and bickering. These are not the perfect people we were sold. Sebastian prays at Muddy Waters's altar, a noble luddite, but he might be a schmuck. (No, I know he's a schmuck.) Mia's where's-mine soul-searching screams of privilege. In retrospect, maybe their L.A.-at-sunset life glowed a little too bright. When La La Land drops the glamorous façade, even the most ardent Broadway opponent will pine for the music to come back on.
Like the jazz that it admires, La La Land zigzags at the players' tempo, not when we expect it. Sebastian and Mia are flawed creatives, everyday millennials who wish they could be stock characters in a Hollywood movie. Gosling and Stone, perhaps from their own experiences navigating the business, understand and feel for them. We're rooting for the pair to nail auditions, knock out performances, and survive.
Chazelle doesn't go easy on them. He's kinder to the audience, gifting a safety net of L.A. parkway dance numbers and musical montage fantasies. And that's why haters and lovers alike may download the soundtrack on the fly as they leave the theater: La La Land is a construct of memories and dream fragments that, without the movie's musical notation, only your slumbering brain could conceive.
Oh, and no singing cats. I can't stress that enough.
La La Land is now out in select theaters.