LA LA LAND: There are some movies that will immediately tell you what they are at their very beginning. Seeing that this was a “CinemaScope” production prior to the opening credits signaled to me that this would be a work that would train its gaze backward to the somewhat lavish cinematic musicals of the ‘50s. The opening scene of aspiring entertainers vocalizing their ambitions in song on a gridlocked freeway in Los Angeles, where the weather is the same whatever the season, also informs us that this is a reality mixed with the escapist fantasy that made up Hollywood musicals of the past. The closing shot in this sequence which shows the wide expanse of freeway traffic is indicative of a story made solely for the medium of film. Historically, the better musical romances have been structured around chemistry between “enamorados”. There’s a plentiful supply of that element in the relationship between a wannabe actress (Emma Stone) and a jazz pianist (Ryan Gosling) who are attracted to each other by their respective ambitions and dreams for a successful life in their artistic fields. With help from some non-descript, rather forgettable songs, the two fall in love and literally “dance in the stars” in a sequence that recalls similar pairings like Fred Astaire and Ginger Rodgers in films like TOP HAT (1935). When Gosling (HALF NELSON) bemoans jazz as a dying art form, he could just as easily be talking about movie musicals which have been in dry dock since MOULIN ROUGE! (2001). But the movie from director/writer Damien Chazelle (WHIPLASH), gives the genre a needed shot in the arm with its ubiquitous, always in motion cinematography and costume design which possess a “retro-cool” flair. The screenplay is blessed with just the right amount of heart from Gosling and Stone (BIRDMAN) who both exude more than the requisite vulnerability their characters are required to have. When it comes to on-screen musicals, there aren’t any fence sitters since people either love or loathe them. But even cinematic purists who want to engage with themes brought out in a movie will be drawn into this narrative love letter to those who continue to pursue their dreams despite the hardships, failures and obstacles encountered along the path. Even though it’s a standard “boy meets girl” storyline with somewhat forgettable music, LA LA LAND is that rare piece of work where one can escape reality while still being moved by art. CRITIC’S GRADE: B+