Movie musicals in one of the classic Hollywood modes are so rare nowadays, and at the same so daunting—you have to dedicate time to wondering if each one can really be any good—they almost always give me pause when they do come along (say, Chicago, Sweeney Todd, or the very odd Les Miserables). What's more, La La Land is also an obvious piece of Oscar bait, an attempt to enter the great Los Angeles movie sweepstakes (with The Big Sleep, Sunset Blvd., Chinatown, Blade Runner, Short Cuts, L.A. Confidential, Mulholland Dr., etc., etc.), and by the way distinctly reminiscent of Woody Allen's Everyone Says I Love You. That could be because I've been looking at lesser Woody Allen movies lately, but Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone are also actually singing and dancing here, just like Edward Norton, Tim Roth, Natalie Portman, Alan Alda, etc. It's classic musical fare on its face, with a winsome story about two crazy mixed-up kids trying to make it in the heartless world of showbiz. He is a jazzbo purist (Gosling), she is a struggling writer and actor (Stone). They meet sweet, and meet sweet again, always in the vicinity of well-known Los Angeles landmarks. Cue music. Dancers. The opening number is an exuberant stunner, set in a Los Angeles traffic jam, but unlike what I expected from previews, the whole thing turns out to be somewhat less a musical and somewhat more just another modern romantic comedy. There's a promise it will go soaring on wings of musical fantasy, with tasteful stunts and special effects. And while it does manage that a couple times, notably in that first number and also a planetarium scene, its feet too often come back to the ground and too often those feet are clay. It too often retreats to sorting out tiresome relationship troubles in conversation. Could these two maybe after all be just a couple of pretentious young urbanistas at large in Tinseltown? Maybe. I don't know Emma Stone well but she seems almost not up to the role somehow, though she's always appealing. Ryan Gosling was surprising again as I'm learning he often can be—he's very good at that whole disappearing into the reinvention thing that lots of great performers do. However, the chemistry between Gosling and Stone is minimal. Maybe that's the problem. La La Land is directed and written by Damien Chazelle, with a screenplay he's been shopping around all decade. He finally got the chance to make it when Whiplash (which he directed and wrote) hauled in some money and drew attention a couple of years ago. Chazelle also wrote the screenplay for 10 Cloverfield Lane, released earlier this year. They are not movies I like, so maybe I just don't like something about the way he makes movies. But I can't imagine La La Land holding much interest after about March this year. I might be wrong. Maybe it's a classic.