Musicals can be hit or miss and I was skeptical about this one, as it seemed like a Hollywood Oscar vehicle and destined to underwhelm at the very least. Low expectations allow for pleasant surprise though and I was rather delighted with this sumptuous meditation on the seductiveness of nostalgia and the pain of moving forward.
Mia (Emma Stone) is an actor in LA, overlooked at audition after audition. Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) is a jazz pianist, incensed that a hallowed jazz venue has become a samba and tapas bar and unable to earn a living playing the traditional jazz he loves. By chance their lives collide and their individual paths and passions intertwine.
The story arc – how do we hold to the passions of our youth when everyone around us tells us to move on and grow up – is an interesting one. It has a subtext where the world of these two dreamers is contemporary but every shot and location reflects the golden years of cinematic Hollywood. From architecture to film to clothes and song and dance routines, we are in the world of Audrey Hepburn, Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly. It poses the question, does the glorification of a golden past limit our progress and stop us from living genuine lives?
This is a poignant film but it has a light touch. Gosling and Stone are adequate singers and dancers without being overly polished. The musical numbers are infrequent and embedded deftly into the narrative. Gosling’s turn in an 80s cover band and Stone’s audition that becomes a song are two stand out moments.
I know some friends have been disappointed by the structure of the ending but it suited me just fine. I felt it gave us everything; happy and sad and a final clarity of message.
On current cinematic release.
Bechdel test – pass