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La La Land (2016)

La La Land (2016)

Rating: ***½

Are movies mostly vapid and a waste of time? Entertaining, sure, but pointless popcorn to fill the minds of the proletariat while the ruling class pulls the strings and cackles from behind the cameras? If you answered yes, you share a strikingly similar worldview to “La La Land” director Damien Chazelle.

Chazelle, whose handiwork you’ll recognize from the fabulous “Whiplash” returns with a striking film featuring picture perfect performances from Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone in a movie that is ostensibly about nothing. Gosling, a jazz pianist, meets Stone, an aspiring actress, who both inexplicably manage to make ends meet in Los Angeles despite having nothing resembling steady incomes or much of anything other than dreams.

They fall in love and develop their dreams as you await the point. There must be something more to all this than a love story you’ve seen in film time and again, right? The story gets more complicated, and “La La Land” offers performances wonderful enough to make the ride worth it but it never rises to the high level it’s capable of.

To some degree, I think that’s Chazelle’s point. This is what Hollywood is all about. It’s all about creating a meaningless diversion; something we use to kill time before moving on to the ‘real’ phase of our lives.

A theme in Chazelle’s last two films is the relentless pursuit of a dream. In “Whiplash,” a drummer achieves greatness through relentless work and a taskmaster of a teacher. In that sense, “La La Land” is markedly softer. Stone writes a one woman play while Gosling joins a new-age Jazz band despite it going against his old-soul ways. I suppose there’s meant to be conflict there, but it never feels real in the same way nothing in Hollywood does. Using sites and sets meant to look two dimensional doesn’t help matters.

What keeps “La La Land” going from start to finish is the chemistry between Stone and Gosling. They sparkle every moment they’re on the screen together and leave you begging for more when apart. Their singing, dancing and acting distinguished the pair as a true triple threat and they make it easy to fall in love with the idea of the two as a couple.

Since we all know how the Oscars work, the navel-gazing nature of the film will surely make it a favorite for numerous Academy Award nominations, including best picture. My guess is the lack of depth will prevent it from taking home the big prize.

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Podcast: "La La Land" and "Manchester by the Sea"

List: Five movies to watch around the holidays

List: Five movies to watch around the holidays