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With: Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, John Legend, J.K. Simmons, Rosemarie DeWitt
Written by: Damien Chazelle
Directed by: Damien Chazelle
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some language
Running Time: 128
Date: 12/16/2016

La La Land (2016)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

City of Stars

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Damien Chazelle follows up his compact, jazzy psychodrama Whiplash with a full-fledged musical, following in the footsteps of Fred and Ginger, Vincente Minnelli, and, especially Jacques Demy (The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, The Young Girls of Rochefort).

Ryan Gosling plays Sebastian, a jazz pianist who dreams of opening a club, and Emma Stone plays Mia, an aspiring actress in Hollywood. (She has an amazing sequence in which she nails an audition, but her achievement is overshadowed by someone's cell phone.) They meet and begin a relationship, but Sebastian decides to join a successful pop-jazz band (led by John Legend) to help raise money for his dream, while Mia writes and finances her own one-woman show. This leads to some arguments and misunderstandings.

The climax is like one of those long ballet sequences in Minnelli's An American in Paris or The Band Wagon, beautiful, and imagining what life might have been like if the lovers had done everything correctly, but then it ends on a more Demy-like note, bittersweet.

I'm not sure La La Land is a great musical; it runs more than 2 hours and it feels long, and it's possible to leave the theater tired and glum. However, while you're watching it, it can be exhilarating, thanks to Chazelle's marvelous use of space and color, and thanks to Justin Hurwitz's lovely score. J.K. Simmons, who won an Oscar for Whiplash, appears as a grouchy club manager, and Rosemarie DeWitt co-stars.

Summit Entertainment has released a glamorous Blu-ray, worthy of its subject in terms of both audio and video. It includes a pack of featurettes that, together, run more than an hour, as well as demo recordings of two of the songs, a "marketing gallery," a commentary track by Chazelle and Hurwitz, and an option to jump to any song in the movie. It also includes a DVD and a digital copy.

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