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If La La Land does, as musical fans can hope, spark a new era of song-and-dance movies, stars Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone seem destined to become its Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. And if that happens, their fans will be able to look back past Damien Chazelle’s wildly acclaimed film to another where Gosling and Stone first responded to music’s romantic call: the 2011 romantic roundelay Crazy, Stupid, Love.
Carrying on the tradition spanning from Max Ophüls’ La Ronde (1950) through Love Actually (2003) and beyond, Dan Fogelman’s script follows the interconnected travails d’amour of a group of LA residents, centering on the Weaver family. While Cal (Steve Carell) and Emily (Julianne Moore) are headed for divorce, their 13-year-old son Robbie (Jonah Bobo) is seriously crushing on his four-years-older babysitter Jessica (Analeigh Tipton), who in turn has a thing for Cal. Bemoaning his marriage travails in a bar, Cal is approached by Jacob (Gosling), a handsome player who makes it his mission to help Cal get his manly mojo back—with hilarious results, especially where a conquest named Kate (Marisa Tomei) is concerned.
The one woman resistant to Jacob’s charms, meanwhile, is Hannah (Stone), a law student first seen confessing her attraction to Conan O’Brien, though she’s actually dating a condescending lawyer named Richard (Josh Groban), described by her best friend Liz (a hilariously tart Liza Lapira) as a “human Valium.” Jacob approaches Hannah in a bar and feeds her a series of lines, and while they don’t have the desired effect, there’s instant chemistry between the two. Later, after Hannah passes the bar and Richard’s promised proposition turns out to be an invitation to join his firm rather than to marry him, Hannah strides into the bar, plants one on Jacob and makes it clear in no uncertain terms that she’s ready to go home with him.
What follows is a courtship back at Jacob’s place that’s as skillfully choreographed (by directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa) as any musical number. As rain falls softly outside, Jacob carefully prepares a couple of special drinks and puts the right song (“Just One Look”) on the turntable, and then the nervously forward Hannah does a bit of tables-turning herself. She gulps down both drinks, announces that she’s here to “bang” and requests that Jacob take off his shirt, which he does, revealing a spectacular torso (“Seriously? It’s like you’re Photoshopped” is her priceless reaction). She then insists on hearing his “big move,” which turns out to be working Dirty Dancing into the conversation: He plays “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life,” tells the woman he can do Patrick Swayze’s lift of Jennifer Grey from that famous finale, and they always want to sleep with him. “That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard,” she says, and he replies, “I agree. But it works every time.”
Does it ever. As he puts that move into practice, and Hannah and Jacob recreate that iconic lift, the scene becomes a tribute to the seductive power of song in cinema. There’s no actual dancing involved, but the way in which Gosling and Stone physically respond to the music and each other reveals them as perfect partners. They’re both homaging Dirty Dancing and creating their own moment, and as Jacob lowers Hannah into his arms, it’s clear that the two of them belong together—in this story and beyond. (The sweet punchline is that instead of “banging,” they have what Hannah has earlier described as “the PG-13 version of tonight,” cementing their bond emotionally rather than physically.)
Throughout Crazy, Stupid, Love., Gosling (who had romantic bona fides from The Notebook but hadn’t previously ventured into comedy) and Stone (an established comedienne from Superbad, Zombieland and Easy A) spar, banter and connect in the manner of the great couples from the movies’ golden age. Their first reteaming, however, was something of a washout: In 2013’s sprawling Gangster Squad, she’s a mob boss’ moll and he’s a cop who romances her, but tepid writing cools the heat between them. Now, in La La Land, they’ve found the perfect vehicle with which to emerge from ensemble pairings and carry a film together. Anyone who has seen Crazy, Stupid, Love. can tell that Gosling and Stone belong together on screen, and it’s likely that Chazelle’s critical darling will by the first of many confirmations.