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This review was originally published on News Cult in December 2016.

Starring: Emma Stone, Ryan Gosling

Director: Damien Chazelle

Running Time: 128 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Doing Once That Thing You Can Get Away With in a PG-13 Movie If You Only Do It Once

Release Date: December 9, 2016 (Limited)

Is it the sign of a successful musical if it leaves you humming one of its tunes as you walk out of the theater? It certainly helps if it has a head start by featuring a certain set of notes so prominently in its trailer and if that phrase is meant to be whistled so steady and easy. But to directly answer the question: yes, a musical is successful if it leaves you humming. All the other trappings – story, acting, set design, pretty colors, whatever – may have their purpose, but who cares, if that one defining feature does not do its job? So what’s the verdict on La La Land? It’s a wistful, eternally romantic tingle that has imprinted on me, perhaps forever.

This may very well be that same old story of showbiz doing showbiz: struggling actress Mia (Emma Stone) toils at auditions and coffee shops, sparks fly when she meets jazz pianist Seb (Ryan Gosling) – the type who is so single-mindedly focused on keeping the old school alive, and the feelings may are powerful enough to literally lift them into the air. This is not tiresome, because there are still, and probably always will be, so many Mia’s and Seb’s making their way in the real La La Land. The film is deeply inspired by tradition, but it is not beholden to it. It is wide-eyed enough for the romance to be worth investing in, but it is clear-eyed enough to know that practicality, honesty, and confidence are essential for making those romantic dreams come true.

For most of its running time, La La Land is perfectly diverting, but not much more. But then it becomes revolutionary at the end when it redefines its entire story, and what is possible in this style of storytelling. I would not dare to spoil this turn, as its impact hit me a great deal via its surprise. But let me just say that it has to do with its organization of the four seasons as chapters. Winter and henceforth are not pointed out for the sake of a convenient format, but to set you up for a treat that only cinema can inflict.

La La Land is Recommended If You Like: Any Musical, as a Rule

Grade: 4.5 out of 5 Leg Raises