Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone were on the scene, belatedly, at the San Francisco Film Society’s screening of “La La Land,” Damien Chazelle’s new musical (opening Friday) that harkens back to the genre’s golden age but with a fresh, modern approach.
On Thursday at the Castro Theatre, the film society presented its Honor Award to Gosling and Stone (who play a jazz pianist and an aspiring actress), writer-director Chazelle (“Whiplash,” 2014) and composer Justin Hurwitz, who participated in an all too brief panel discussion.
The theater was packed, but audience members who waited patiently for the delayed program cheered euphorically when Gosling and Stone took the stage — and may have been disappointed by the brevity of the talk.
It was a long wait and a steep price ($25 a ticket) for a discussion dominated by San Francisco director Chris Columbus, who moderated, rather than the stars (the reason the much of the audience came).
Gosling described the atmosphere of the film’s production: a studio full of actors, set designers, dancers, choreographers and musicians collaboratively creating a joyful feeling evident in every frame.
From the start, the film — the kind of movie made to be seen in a grand movie palace like the Castro — is bold, colorful and inventive. At the same time, it summons much of what was magical and moving about the musicals of decades past.
“La La Land” never resorts to cheap allusions and quotations. Confident and self-possessed, it doesn’t need to rely on the reflected glory of movies from which it draws its inspiration.
When Gosling gently twirls around a lamp post, it is not a gratuitous quote from “Singin’ in the Rain.” It’s employed, subtly and without fanfare, as language, as a gesture affixed in our collective consciousness that signifies a man falling in love.
Even viewers not versed in film musical history pick up on the poignant, almost subliminal, moment and feel its emotional weight.
Still, knowledgeable viewers will enjoy references to classic musicals: a choreographed flirtation at sunset recalls Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse dancing in the dark; a set piece takes inspiration from Gene Kelly’s dream sequences; a fleeting moment along the Seine has a touch of “An American in Paris”; color schemes that bring to mind musicals of Jacques Demy and Francis Coppola’s “One From the Heart,” and exuberant camerawork and choreography that summon Busby Berkeley.
(One shot in which the camera plunges into a swimming pool even seems to draw from an unlikely non-musical source, the Soviet-Cuban agitprop masterpiece “I Am Cuba.”) These moments shade the movie with emotion and meaning, but are never overplayed or deployed for their own sake.
“La La Land” is a film rooted in cinema history but firmly set in modern times, and one that boldly charts its own course.
IF YOU GO: La La Land
Starring: Emma Stone, Ryan Gosling Written and directed by: Damien Chazelle Rated: PG-13 Running time: 2 hours, 6 minutes