La La Land is both a blast of nostalgia and wave of fresh newness, and that blend makes it a fascinating ride. Both leads are pining for a lost golden age (old Hollywood and old jazz, respectively) and the film mirrors this by hearkening to vintage musicals and films through its dance, music, vocal style, costumes and even plot elements. Gosling and Stone are captivating and funny - and easy on the ears when they sing. The simple through-line of their romance (courtship, love, conflict, resolution) feels true, is fun to watch, and really makes you think. Perhaps it goes without saying, coming from writer/director Damien Chazelle of Whiplash fame, but the jazz in the film is striking and the moments with Gosling at the piano are definite high points.
The film opens weak, growing stronger as it goes; some might even say it becomes a different animal entirely. The opening minutes weave characters in and out of song and dance like a proper musical, and those are by far the least compelling and even most uncomfortable moments in the film. This is due In part to inherent differences in live and filmed entertainment; many crucial elements of stage musicals don't translate well to film. But truthfully, much of it was due to Stone and Gosling lacking the technical finesse that made the singing-dancing greats of yesteryear so magical. Stone is a brilliant actress and has a lovely voice, but there's a reason directors used to cast Ginger Rogers when their films included tap dancing numbers.