We need movies like La La Land.

No matter what you may feel or fear, this original musical will inspire you to embrace a brighter tomorrow. Just as Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers helped a nation survive the Great Depression in the 1930s, an evening with Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone may be the ticket to restore your belief in the joys to experience today. La La Land is more than a movie. It’s a reason to wake up in the morning.

Now, for people who love musicals, La La Land is not your standard order tuner. While most song and dance movies showcase big numbers in big adaptations of big Broadway hits, this is a small movie with big dreams. It’s softer, quieter, slower, with songs and dances that naturally emerge from the story and the characters. And this makes La La Land a delight for people who savor creativity at the movies. The movie doesn’t simply play. It floats.

Director Damien Chazelle, who dazzled with Whiplash, launches this musical journey with an opening sequence that captivates, excites and makes us want more. Who could imagine a crowded Los Angeles freeway as the backdrop for the most thrilling opening number since Julie Andrews discovered the hills were alive? From the moment the first honk initiates the fun, Chazelle’s opener reveals everything we need to know. We meet Emma Stone’s captivating actress, Ryan Gosling’s brooding musician, and the city of lights that frames their dreams. And we can’t wait for what happens next.

For the next two hours, Chazelle delights with every possible musical moment a movie could welcome. Gosling and Stone, reaching for their inner Fred and Ginger, express attraction, love and disappointment. Like Mickey and Judy, they search for professional success in a world that can be unkind, use song to articulate their hopes and values, and discover dancing to reveal their desires. As we find ourselves dazzled by how they handle those musical chores — and, yes, they can sing and dance – we are captivated by the emotional depth of their work, especially in a musical. Gosling makes his brooding musician into a captivating dreamer while Stone simply dazzles as she reveals what a star she will be.

As with the best musicals, La La Land creates its own world. Every moment is carefully planned without waste. As screenwriter, Chazelle lets the story fill enough space to explain the context and characters without permitting it to overwhelm the entertainment. As director, he uses every part of the movie language to create a film that honors its past by creating something new to add to the evolution of the movie musical. And he makes it all look effortless.

As special as La La Land may be for everyone, musical movie buffs will have a field day spotting the moments that celebrate such past musicals as Swing Time, Singin’ in the Rain, Funny Face and The Bandwagon. By reminding us how much we love musicals, and showing us what a musical can be, Damien Chazelle honors legacy as he inaugurates a bright musical future.

Film Nutritional Value: La La Land
  • Content: High. Director Damien Chazelle creates a magical musical world where delightful characters float across the screen in song and dance.
  • Entertainment: High. Thanks to Chazelle’s creativity – and the endearing chemistry between Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling – La La Land soars.
  • Message: High. The movie reminds us that any day can be brighter when filled with song and dance.
  • Relevance: High. Any opportunity to laugh and smile, and tap your toes to such delightful song and dance, is always relevant.
  • Opportunity for Dialogue: High. You will find yourself remembering many moments. This is an ideal film to share with others.

La La Land is rated PG-13 for “some language.” The film runs 2 hours and 8 minutes.

Reel Dad Rating: Five Popcorn Buckets

La La Land celebrates the magic of movie musicals

The wonderful entertainment called La La Land celebrates the grand tradition of musical comedy on film. And while director Damien Chazelle creates his own world for his performers, he draws upon marvelous inspiration from the Hollywood archive. Take a look at some of the movies Chazelle honors with his new musical delight.

Swing Time. This ultimate musical in the series of films starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers defines the joy of song and dance on the big screen. Astaire and Rogers set a standard for how any dancing couple can integrate their steps in a way that makes us feel as if they float on air. That breathless quality inspires Chazelle to create a similar impression in La La Land. Fred and Ginger would be proud.

The Bandwagon. Years after Rogers left Astaire to make movie dramas – and win an Oscar – a solo Fred creates a series of memorable musicals of which this story of putting on a Broadway show makes the most magic. In one sequence, Astaire and partner Cyd Charisse defy gravity as they dance through Central Park. Chazelle openly borrows from this routine as Gosling and Stone discover their love through their well-choreographed steps. Fred would love it.

A Star Is Born. This second version of the classic Hollywood tale captures the layers of ambition that breaking into the movies can prompt. Director George Cukor beautifully fills the wide screen of the new Cinemascope process with classic images. Chazelle pays tribute to this achievement by filling his screen with detailed images in the Cukor style. And Emma Stone’s search for stardom reminds us of a lady named Garland in the earlier film.

Funny Face. As much as this classic from director Stanley Donen is Astaire’s film, the movie magic belongs to costar Audrey Hepburn in one of her two musicals on screen. In one segment, as Astaire the photographer captures the delights of his favorite model, Hepburn delights as she holds a bundle of balloons. Chazelle pays homage to this image as he stages musical numbers with the delightful Emma Stone. Audrey would applaud.

New York, New York. As remembered as La La Land will be, it brings to mind this forgotten musical from director Martin Scorcese. Yes, a Scorcese musical, with Robert DeNiro as the leading man! Just as Scorcese brilliantly explores the artificial happiness that musical movies can generate – and pokes fun at the overblown movie musical production sequence – Chazelle carries forward a similar view of how musical feelings can be less than real. Scorcese should be smiling.

Yes, in the movies, everything old is new again. And La La Land – with its tribute to the past – emerges as an ultimate new movie, too. And, hopefully, will make musicals once again a movie thing.

See you at the movies.