The bewitching musical La La Land starring Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone on Sunday won the coveted Toronto film festival audience prize. The People’s Choice award could make it a frontrunner for this year’s Oscars.
The joyful, quirky film by Damien Chazelle is a tribute to the golden age of American musicals, reuniting the stars, who appeared together in the 2011 romantic comedy Crazy, Stupid, Love -- but with oodles of singing this time.
The tale of a struggling jazz pianist and his actress girlfriend in Los Angeles pays homage to classic musicals with nods to scenes from Singing in the Rain (1952) and Grease (1978) as well as old-timers Bringing Up Baby (1938) and Top Hat (1935).
Stone plays Mia, a wide-eyed romantic who goes from audition to failed audition in her quest to make it big, while Gosling is Sebastian, a jazz pianist with a mission to save the medium, but who struggles to pay his bills.
The pair meet -- in one of LA’s famous traffic jams and then at a bawdy celebrity party -- before wooing each other in tap- and ballroom-dancing sequences reminiscent of American icons Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.
“Now more than ever we need hope and romance on the big screen,” said Chazelle, 31, a former jazz musician whose second feature film Whiplash (2014) received five Academy Award nominations.
“There’s something about musicals. They are movies as a dreamland, expressing a world in which you break into song, in which you can violate the rules of reality,” said the film’s writer and director.
The film opened the Venice film festival in late August, earning accolades from critics and moviegoers, before screening in Toronto -- a bellwether for Oscar-conscious studios and distributors.
The picture bursts with enthusiasm and happiness from the opening scene: a big dance number on a freeway with men and women dressed in sun-kissed yellows and rich reds and blues dancing on their cars.
Chazelle said he had brought the love story into the modern day by setting it in Los Angeles, whose nickname La-La Land also refers to a euphoric, dreamlike mental state.
Chazelle, who has lived in the sprawling southern California metropolis for almost a decade, said it was “a city of loneliness when you first live there, not a city that offers itself up.”
Watch the trailer of La La Land here: