Believe the hype: writer-director Damien Chazelle’s love letter to old-timey movie musical romances may be the most fun you have at the pictures this winter. Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone reunite again in an on screen pairing that will make you forget about Crazy Stupid Love (and certainly, Gangster Squad).
After opening with a delightful song and dance number atop a gridlocked Los Angeles expressway, we encounter Mia (Stone), a struggling actress serving coffee on the Warner Brothers studio lot to make ends meet. Mia is running the audition gauntlet hoping for a break. When her car gets towed after a late night house party, she wanders by a restaurant and is drawn inside by beautiful jazz piano music played by Sebastian (Gosling). After a rough beginning, the pair start up a lovely romance with Los Angeles as the back drop, including a delightful scene in the Griffith Observatory.
Conflict ensues as Sebastian agrees to become the keyboardist for a successful band, setting aside artistic differences with the band’s leader (played by neo-soul singer-songwriter John Legend). Meanwhile Mia continues to struggle while he is away on tour, trying to write a one-woman play to showcase her talents.
While neither Stone nor Gosling will be launching a recording artist career out of this, the singing is certainly good enough for movie purposes (and if you really want to hear Broadway voices in these roles, just wait a few years for the inevitable Broadway adaptation). More impressive are Gosling’s piano skills particularly in one scene; if he was faking it, it’s a tribute to his acting ability, wow!
Both actors are fantastic in their roles, which is a good thing because there are few other characters in the story that have much impact; this is their show.