First Hit: It will touch your heart with joy and sorrow because of its exquisite acting and beautiful stylistic presentation.
From the very beginning, the audience knows they are going for a ride. The partially obscured black and white “CinemaScope” logo morphing to a unobstructed full color logo gave only a hint of the amazing film to follow. The opening scene with the camera panning numerous cars and drivers stuck on a LA Freeway on ramp, with each driver listening to a different radio station, all of a sudden transforming to a big-time dance number with people using both the cars and lane dividers as props was genius and sets the tone that this film will be a musical and will be different in the ways it integrates the musical dance sequences with the acting.
We are then introduced to Mia (Emma Stone) and Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) through sequences of the work they do and the things they are interested in. She is an aspiring actress who supports herself as a barista in a coffee house located on the Warner Brothers movie lot. He’s a jazz pianist in small club, wishes to own his own jazz club playing traditional jazz improvisation.
They meet after he honks at her in the opening traffic jam, after she walks into the club he’s playing in (just after he gets fired), and again when he walks into her place of work. By the time they walk through the Warner Bros lot, the audience has a strong sense of their path and them as a couple you care about.
During the film, we are treated to a wonderful, hopeful story that segued into well-conceived dance, song, and piano scenes by Mia and Sebastian. There are two things that struck me about these scenes: 1) The dance sequences were shot full bodied and all-encompassing instead of a series of composed edits and cuts showing feet, facial expressions, and a whirl of colors and bodies. This is how musical dance sequences were shot early on by the very best (Ginger Rogers, Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly) of this genre. And 2); They did their own work. They did their own singing, dancing, and for Gosling, piano playing. They were strong, real and imperfectly perfect, just like all of us.
In my book, this just why these talented two are top box office draws and are two of our best. However, a lot of the credit for this amazing film belongs to the clear direction and vision of director Damien Chazelle who showed us his abilities in “Whiplash”, another outstanding film. Lastly, I loved the old time ending by using "The End" at the close of the film, it perfectly bookended the opening,
Gosling is absolutely riveting and sublime. His extraordinary talent is so obvious in every scene he’s in. He is a excellent pianist, his suave smooth dance movements are a joy to watch and his acting is top notch. He may be nominated for an award for this turn. Stone is wonderful and clearly made for this part. Her hopeful joy, moments of moving sadness and the ability to move from a dramatic scene into a dance scene were exceptional. J. K. Simmons as Bill, in his very brief scenes, was very good. John Legend as Keith, a musical group leader, was strong and a joy to see. Chazelle wrote and directed this film. Because I was emotionally moved throughout the film, I can say he was very successful in delivering his vision. He and his film is worth an award nomination.
Overall: Although I normally don’t like musicals, I laughed, cried and my heart was touched throughout this fantastic film.