Barely out of his 20s when he made this, writer and director Damien Chazelle has marked himself out as one of the brightest young filmmaking talents in world cinema with this ode to old-school Hollywood musicals, proving that his astonishing previous film Whiplash was no fluke. He has constructed a simple but gloriously warm-hearted story, with a script that celebrates anyone who dares to openly dream and openly love, regardless of the painful risks. He’s also shown a remarkable sense of daring as a director, working with cinematographer Linus Sandgren to paint a sun-soaked picture of Los Angeles bursting with colour and vibrant imagery.

Every song sequence has something remarkable in it – from the opening number (a single dazzling take around an L.A. highway featuring hundreds of perfectly-choreographed performers), an incredible steady-cam jump into a swimming pool, another single-take moment in the Hollywood Hills (where Gosling and Stone outdo themselves with a 15-minute sequence of flirting, slapstick routines and various dance styles), a quietly unforgettable moment of calm on a pier as dawn breaks, a gloriously old-fashioned trip inside the Griffith Park planetarium and a final montage that will break your heart as it dazzles your eyeballs.

Ryan Gosling has carved a niche for himself playing taciturn loners, but his surface cracks here with hopeful abandon, portraying a man who chases his dreams only to see them change along with himself, showcasing an incredible talent for singing, dancing and playing jazz piano to supplement his other gifts as a performer. Emma Stone also finds a role here that fits every one of her talents perfectly – her wonderfully expressive face and sense of comic timing are consistently delightful, and she has a final audition moment (the previous audition scenes will make any actor watching it cringe with painful recognition) that will probably earn her an Oscar next month.

Academy Awards will also most likely be bestowed upon Chazelle and Sandgren for their astonishing work on display here, but such curios almost miss the point of this film. It’s as much about failure as it is about success, as much about the love we lose as it about whatever other happiness we find. It finds beauty and hope in heartbreak, with very little unearned sentiment or ineffective lip service. As much as there are dozens of ways love can be felt and experienced, there are moments you can find here that relate to each one. And if you love the cinematic medium, or love to dream beyond what you currently have, or have ever been in love with another human being, this film will leave you walking on air.

A love letter to lifelong dreams, lost romance and the power of cinema itself10
Damien Chazelle is the future of Hollywood filmmaking10
Ryan Gosling is simply brilliant here, and Emma Stone is even better10
Linus Sandgren's cinematography is a tour-de-force of colour, composition and technical skill10
See it with someone you love, and it'll make your very soul sing10
Bechdel Test passes
  • Features more than one named female character
  • The female characters talk to each other
  • I'm pretty sure they talk about something other than men at a few points
Bechdel test failures
  • n/a
10Overall Score

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