Movie review: 'La La Land' a pitch-perfect, timeless musical love story

Brad Keefe, Columbus Alive

As 2016 was an undisputed Dumpster fire, and as one of the functions of film is escapism, I can't think of a better way to end the year than seeing "La La Land."

This is why we go to movies.

Damien Chazelle's follow-up to his breakout debut "Whiplash" is an ode to movie musicals with enough heart to fill 10 films. Look, I'm not a musical buff, but I'm also not the Grinch. This movie is just irresistible.

It's a story of two of the thousands of aspiring young artists in Los Angeles. Mia (Emma Stone) is an actress of substantial talent in a city where it takes more than that to stand out. She lives with three other actresses, after all.

Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) is a jazz pianist living in a barely furnished apartment and playing into every tortured-artist stereotype. He dreams of reopening an old-school jazz club that's been converted into a "tapas-samba" joint in a feat of peak hipster.

And, yes, these two ships are on course to meet and fall in love. But just because we see it coming doesn't mean it's not lovely.

Nor is it simple, as Mia and Sebastian struggle to maintain a relationship in the face of the successes and failures that mark their respective career paths.

Hollywood loves to reference itself, but "La La Land" somehow manages to be all warm and fuzzy while still exploring the downside of following your dreams. And that's no small feat.

Chazelle's confident direction - in just his second feature film - shows a talent that borders on prodigy. He manages to make both his musical numbers and his love story feel classic and fresh, often at the same time.

The camera just feels like another dance partner, as light and whimsical as our onscreen duo.

And let's just talk about the leads. I don't think scientists in a lab could construct more likability on screen than Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling. Putting the two of them together just seems unfair to all other movies.

And they're in perfect sync on-screen here, whether singing, dancing, making us laugh or making us cry. "La La Land" feels timeless because the performances by Gosling and (especially) Stone feel like absolute classics.

Finally, in a stunning third act, Chazelle manages to keep the audience on its toes, running through a rapid range of emotions.

"La La Land" is one of the best movies from one of the worst years. We needed this.

"La La Land"

Opens Christmas Day

4 stars out of 4