I don't know how much you like '50s Hollywood musicals. Maybe you don't care for them at all. Maybe they're your favorite thing. But here's what I do know: no matter how much you like '50s musicals, you don't like them nearly as much as Damien Chazelle loves them. You did not, after all, make an entire feature film that's not really about anything else at all besides how much you love '50s musicals, as Chazelle has done with La La Land, one of the most deeply shameless movies of 2016. "Shameless" is meant to be a compliment, by the way; I mean by it that Chazelle and company hold nothing back in their transparent, sloppy desire to be loved by all and sundry for their big sloppy wedge of fluffy entertainment. It's a crowd-pleaser first and foremost (and so much the better if the crowd is a bunch of classical Hollywood geeks), nothing but 128 minutes of shoveling candy into your mouth, with a bittersweet finish. It is, to me, representative of the best & noblest kind of cinema.

The whole story is unadulterated boilerplate: she's a barista at a coffee shop inside the walls of a movie studio hoping for just one speaking role in anything at all, he's a pianist who takes shit gigs all over Los Angeles while trying to save up enough to open a jazz club. Their paths cross a few different times over the course of the first few months of the year, and eventually they start to fall in love. Also, they're played by Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, two of the most fucking adorable human beings presently working in the movies, reuniting them five years after they made one of the cutest couples in modern rom-com history in Crazy, Stupid, Love. (it is said that Chazelle's first choice for the male lead was Miles Teller, the star of the director's 2014 breakthrough Whiplash; I honestly don't know if La La Land could have survived a miscasting of that magnitude). This is not an incidental part of what makes La La Land work, for although neither Stone nor Gosling gives a particularly great performance (though they both have individually great scenes), they are both charismatic and desirable in the way of the great old-fashioned Hollywood movie stars, and the fact that they're both so utterly charming when doing absolutely nothing but glowing in front of the camera adds a whole hell of a lot to the film's evocation of the heady pleasure of screen spectacle.

That spectacle is, to be fair, often nothing more than Chazelle showing off his own fandom of several old movies, starting but certainly not ending with the corpus of MGM's A-unit musicals. There's also heaping servings of Jacques Demy's The Umbrellas of Cherbourg and The Young Girls of Rochefort in the the film's use of music, and its relatively high level of realism, for a lavish musical romance (that is to say: the fantastical singing and dancing takes place in extremely plausible, real spaces - the opening is a celebration of the California sun performed by motorists stuck in endless L.A. traffic, for God's sake). Chazelle also clears out plenty of narrative space for a loving homage to Rebel Without a Cause, directed by that household god of all cinephiles, Nicholas Ray, which eventually blossoms into a swirling dance of silhouettes in midair in the Griffith Observatory (you'll note I did say relatively high level of realism). It's one of multiple points where Chazelle's love of old movies intoxicates him so much that it seems like he just has to put in some gonzo, elaborate gesture of unapologetically showy filmmaking balderdash, or else he will surely die of it.

It is quite the showy movie indeed, with absolutely none of the urban tactility that Whiplash suggested as Chazelle's chief skill (frankly, other than a strong affection for classic jazz, the two films feel like they were made by two different people; I like this Chazelle much more than the last one), but a whole lot of screaming virtuosity, beginning with that same opening number, presented in one bravura long take. Plenty of other moments also mostly exist to show off with a splendid sense of "Oh my God, you guys, movies!" enthusiasm, from the relatively small - the first time Stone's Mia hears Gosling's Sebastian play piano in a bourgie restaurant, the film invisibly shifts into her subjective vision of what's happening by essentially shutting off the background - to the fucking gigantic. And surely the best example of this is the film's kaleidoscopic final sequence, which I can't entirely not spoil if I want to talk about it, but I will do my level best to be vague. Still, spoiler alert: the finale is Chazelle's besotted tribute to the old MGM climactic ballets, especially the theatrical pantomime of An American in Paris, recapping the whole plot of the movie (that is to say, of course, the movie version of the movie, rather than the life in the unkind real world version of the movie) in an orgasmic combination of blatantly fake sets, dramatic cinematography, and Justin Hurwitz's gorgeously sweet & smoky Romantic jazz score. Only with the inversion that, well, if you've seen the film I'm sure you know where the inversion comes and probably what other great masterwork of the musical form Chazelle is riffing on, and if you haven't, shame on me if I give it away.

Not that setting aside privileged moments necessarily counts for all that. La La Land is, throughout its ample but well-used running time, a steady stream of beautiful visuals begging for us to fall in love with the anachronistic glamor of Mary Zophres's costumes or cinematographer Linus Sandgren's level-best attempt to mimic the unreproducible qualities of three-strip Technicolor (it's not perfect, but there's something unholy beautiful about the 1950s-meets-2010s quality of the images even so; also, La La Land benefits hugely from being shot on film, and is as great an argument in favor of that dying technology as the last few years have produced). Often it's something as simple as using color to excite and delight us, as in the ironic love duet "A Lovely Night", or to calm us into a state of blissful reverie, and so we get the green-washed dreaminess of "City of Stars", something of the film's signature song. And in the presence of so much glitz and flash means that stripping it all back has even more impact, as in the emotional firebomb that comes near the end when Chazelle hands the entire emotional arc of the film to Stone, who has to justify basically the entire movie with her performance of "Audition (The Fools Who Dream)" in a medium shot that blots out every distraction other than the actor's face and voice. It's also the best song in a strong list of six originals, with music by Hurwitz and lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul; certainly, "City of Stars" (heard twice) and "Audition" blow the other four out of the water, but even its weakest musical points are still enjoyable, even if it's much more an exercise in soft jazz than the script seems to ask for.

Anyway, the whole movie gratifying as hell, however apparently shallow (as though being blasted in the face with emotions - happy, then sad, then comforted - by talented people is some misuse of cinema's powers), and despite a few moments that perhaps over-articulate the themes of the movie; the demonstration of the gummed-up junk that modern jazz has become, courtesy of a number performed with great ebullience by John Legend (who isn't a half-bad actor), in particular, adds little to the movie besides running time. It's also very reminiscent of a lot of other movies, which is absolutely the point; but if you asked me whether there was ever any reason for any person to watch this movie instead of The Young Girls of Rochefort, I would have to concede that there probably really isn't. That is not, of course, how movie-watching actually takes place, and so I can simply declare that, by 2016 standards, La La Land is an absolutely top-tier musical and glossy valentine to the simple, blunt-force emotions of classical Hollywood cinema. It may be that it's desperate to please, but the good news is that it's also pheneomenally pleasurable.