At a time when the new Star War and an animated film about singing animals are dominating the box office, it's nice to see that audiences are also flocking to see a true rarity: a full-fledged movie musical. Writer/director Damien Chazelle's follow-up to 2014's Whiplash, La La Land is unabashedly entertaining, but it also makes trenchant observations about the value of holding fast to your dreams and staying true to yourself. Chazelle's conduits for these lessons are aspiring actress/coffee shop barista Mia (Emma Stone) and uncompromising pianist/jazz aficionado Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), whose first encounter on a Los Angeles freeway overpass is less than cordial. The same goes for their second almost-meeting when he rudely brushes past her after being given the boot by a strict club owner (the kind of role J.K. Simmons can do in his sleep). The third time's the charm, though -- or at the very least, it isn't as off-putting for either of them.
Over the course of a year, Chazelle charts Mia and Sebastian's ups and downs career-wise as she goes from one mortifying audition to the next, hoping one of them will lead to something other than rejection, and he takes whatever work he can get, however demeaning (including playing keyboards in an '80s cover band) until he can realize his aspiration of opening his own traditional jazz club. At a certain point he suggests she write something for herself to perform -- a seed that blossoms into a one-woman show called So Long Boulder City -- and he entertains taking a steady gig as the keyboard player for a bandleader he doesn't respect. It may not turn out to be artistically fulfilling, but it's hard to say no when serious money is dangled in front of you. That's one of the traps it's possible to fall into while chasing success in Hollywood. Another is winding up demoralized and discouraged before your big break happens. That's the trick: knowing when and how much to compromise and when to stick to your guns.