1. The opening sequence
It’s a traffic jam in LA: the most glorious, technicolor snarl-up you’ve ever seen, sunshine saturating the cars, everyone in primary colours like a giant, singing Mondrian, and then they start dancing. It is, hands down, the most achieved choreography I’ve seen on screen since Cabaret. Scores, maybe a couple of hundred dancers swirl round each other and leap across their cars, a cross between Busby Berkeley and parkours. According to Damian Chazelle, the director, when the cast finished shooting they were too exhilarated to go home. They just stood round the monitors watching the rushes, and had to get pizzas in.
2. Ryan Gosling tap dancing
It’s like finding out a cat can use a computer. He is already brilliant, peerless, even, at being Ryan Gosling – sleek but stubbly, boyish but mannish, funny but, you know, deadly serious. And also… the tap dance!
3. All that jazz
Sebastian, Gosling’s character, is a jazz pianist, with a passionate and entirely misplaced certainty that the complicated musical form will, any second now, come back into fashion. It is a little bit of a cinematic cliche, sure – hero demonstrates depth and sensitivity with his completely unrealistic dream – but the unexpected side effect is that, when you listen to enough of it, you remember that jazz is brilliant.
4. Mia’s audition
You could write a poem about Emma Stone in this movie, a poem that would mainly contain new ways of saying, God damn, she is pretty. But her crowning scene is her audition song, shot live in one go, which has the lot: vulnerability, daring, a whisper of heartbreak tinging the triumph, charm up the wazoo. This is the moment the critics all asked about at the end of the Bafta screening in London, and Emma Stone bashfully said it was no big deal. The producer had to step in and say, it was a big deal.
5. Musical smarts
There’s a reason why the film has had an admiring a critical response as it has had a popular one: it is a genuinely knowledgeable, deeply respectful homage to the entire form of the written-for-screen musical. Sure, it’s an art form that passes some people by, but those who love it really love it. Damien Chazelle had a reputation already for Whiplash, the unlikely hit about a drummer, but his partnership with Justin Hurwitz, the composer, dates from years before, when they met at Harvard and wrote an original musical as a joint dissertation, which I totally did not know you were allowed to do at Harvard.
6. Musical smarts #2
Chazelle’s favourite musical is not Singing in the Rain, although obviously he loves it because he’s human. It is actually the Umbrellas of Cherbourg, a 60s French musical film that is entirely sung-through; La La Land is heavily laced with its tragic, too-human atmosphere and you can sort-of taste the French classic. It’s like being handed an unexpectedly tasty crepe suzette.
7. The escapism
Just when everything in culture and the world looks either grey or worse, out springs a film that is all glee, not glee like the show, glee like the actual emotion: this film amplifies the hell out of everything good; love, coffee, yellow, Hollywood, friendship, high-kicks, full-circle skirts, swimming pools…
8. But also, the not-escapism
It’s quite a Millennial film: people get knocked back, things don’t work out, feelings get hurt and people change forever. It accepts disappointment as part of the human condition, which rom coms haven’t done convincingly for years.
9. The flying sequence
It is a given that, if you take two obviously beautiful people, and they both have a sense of humour, and neither is going out with the other one’s brother or has a terminal illness, then it is outrageously hard work, for a script, to stop them kissing straight away and end up with a 20-minute film. A number of plot points keep Mia and Sebastian’s lips apart, but my favourite is when they quite literally start flying.
10. The love affair with Hollywood
Ok, it’s bitchy, it’s full of broken dreams and the road infrastructure is just appalling, but for unadulterated, heart-bursting romance, it’s the don.