LA LA LAND — Review by Susan Granger

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Opening with a fabulous fantasy sequence of morning commuters caught in congested traffic on Los Angeles’ freeways, Damien Chazelle’s dazzling contemporary musical chronicles longing, love and lingering wistfulness. Aspiring actress Mia (Emma Stone) works as a barista at a café on the Warner Brothers’ studio lot, while brooding jazz pianist Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) is tired of playing background music at bars and restaurants. They “meet cute” several times before they actually connect, tapping and twirling to “A Lovely Night.” Read on…

Encouraging one another to follow their dreams, their careers move forward. Mia writes a one-woman show attracting the interest of an influential agent, while Sebastian joins a touring rock band, fronted by his old friend Keith (John Legend). Not surprisingly, long separations take a toll on their romantic relationship as the seasons change.

Writer/director Damien Chazelle (“Whiplash”) continues to astonish. Inspired by Jacques Demy’s French New Wave classic “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg,” along with “A Star Is Born,” “Singin’ in the Rain” and “The Artist,” he stylishly transitions from naturalism into the breezy romanticism of make-believe through song-and-dance numbers, composed by Justin Hurwitz with lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul.

Choreographer Mandy Moore devises wondrous, magical moments, reminiscent of Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers and Gene Kelly/Debbie Reynolds, particularly when dreamy lovebirds Mia and Sebastian glide into the heavens with “City of Stars” at the Griffith Observatory – captured by cinematographer Linus Sandgren.

Crashing back to reality, Chazelle’s exquisite staging of Mia’s audition scenes evokes the inevitable rejection and casual cruelty of the casting process.

A native of Rhode Island, Chazelle, at first, found Los Angeles a scary, lonely place, noting: “I wanted to try to present the city as something that brings people together and tears people apart. Inspires dreams and crushes them – and, maybe, re-inspires them again. The city is both villain and hero.”

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “La La Land” is an entrancing, unabashedly twinkly 10, affectionately recalling the Golden Era of Hollywood musicals.

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