(director/writer: Damien Chazelle; cinematographer: Linus Sandgren; editor: Tom Cross; music: Justin Hurwitz; cast: Ryan Gosling (Sebastian), Emma Stone (Mia), Rosemary DeWitt (Laura),Callie Hernandez (Tracy), Sonoya Mizuno (Caitlin), Jessica Rothe (Alexis), J.K. Simmons (Bill), Josh Pence (Josh), John Legend (Keith), Finn Wittrock (Greg), Tom Everett Scott (David); Runtime: 128; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producers: Gary Gilbert/Fred Berger/Jordan Horowitz/Marc Platt; Lionsgate; 2016)

The mind-blowing opening scene is masterfully shot on the LA freeway.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

An uplifting freshly minted homage to lush movie musicals of the past by the 31-year-old writer-director Damien Chazelle (“Whiplash”/”Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench”). It honors the great Hollywood musicals of the ’40s and ’50s and the French director Jacques Demy’s brilliant 1960s musicals, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg and The Young Girls of Rochefort. The mind-blowing opening scene is masterfully shot on the LA freeway, heading downtown, during a traffic jam, as the song “Another Day of Sun” emerges from a chorus among the agitated commuters. Songwriter Justin Hurwitz (along with lyricists Benj Pasek and Justin Paul) keep things musically moving along. The gist of the film tells the story of an aspiring jazz piano man Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) and an aspiring actress/playwright Mia (Emma Stone) coming to Hollywood to follow their dreams, but finding it difficult to get a break in their respective fields. Mia works as a barista on the Warner Bros. lot and rushes from there to humiliating auditions. Sebastian yearns to open his own club, but to pay the bills works as piano man in bar lounges playing tunes he has no interest in. The two meet during the traffic jam and meet for a split second at a bar he just gets fired from because the boss (J.K. Simmons) doesn’t want him to stop playing Christmas music and he does. They don’t get together until meeting at her day coffee shop job. She digs his passion for the music but does not share his taste in jazz. He finds her a refreshing innocent in Hollywood, who has something to say. They both think they might be in love and try to help the other fulfill their dreams, as they traipse around L.A.’s iconic spots (such as the Griffith Observatory). But love plans are changed when he gets a jazz gig with a band fronted by Keith (John Legend) and must go on a long road tour, and she finances a one-woman stage show that bombs and retreats back home. What is telling is how the realities of the world play such a vital role in how one may navigate their way through life. They both must learn how to manage their personal relationships and their artistic ambitions. What Chazelle does very well is elevate the musical confection into something that should matter to us more than just the music. He does so with craft, perfect execution of story, solid music set pieces and thoughtful reflections on timeless melodramatic themes. This is one of the rare Hollywood musicals that touches the heart with its artists trying to intelligently stay with their dreams and fantasies despite the usual setbacks. It creatively ends on a bluesy note of bittersweet reckoning for all concerned parties. Though Stone and Gosling are not song-and-dance artists, they have great appeal and are strong leads despite their musical shortcomings.