'La La Land' finds critical acclaim, box office success with new tunes

Big-screen movie musicals have become commonplace over the last several years, but most are adaptations of existing shows, while 'La La Land' is becoming a success with unfamiliar songs.

Dale Robinette/Lionsgate/AP
'La La Land' stars Emma Stone (l.) and Ryan Gosling (r.).

Musicals becoming critical and box office hits is nothing new over the past several years, but the film “La La Land” is doing it with original tunes. 

“La” stars Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone as a piano player and aspiring actress, respectively, who begin a romance in Los Angeles. The movie, now in theaters, has been nominated for seven Golden Globe awards, including for best comedy or musical, while Mr. Gosling and Ms. Stone have been nominated for acting prizes including Golden Globes and Screen Actors Guild Awards for their work in the film.

The music in the movie was composed by Justin Hurwitz and the lyrics were co-written by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul. 

Musicals in recent years have received critical acclaim and become box office successes. The 2014 film "Into the Woods," for example, became a financial hit and brought actress Meryl Streep an Oscar nomination for best supporting actress. 2012’s “Les Miserables” not only did well at the box office but received a best picture Oscar nomination. Actress Anne Hathaway won the best supporting actress Oscar for her role as Fantine. 

But “La” is doing it with songs that are new to the audience.

As The Christian Science Monitor's film critic Peter Rainer writes, the movie makes viewers yearn for the days of creative and fresh movie musicals, when films routinely debuted new songs. For example, the 1935 Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire film “Top Hat” featured several original songs, including the famous “Cheek to Cheek.” 

“Damien Chazelle’s entrancing fantasia starring Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling makes you hope that maybe Hollywood will again make the kinds of musicals that once enraptured us,” Mr. Rainer wrote when selecting “La” as the second-best movie to be released this year.

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