When you go to see a musical, you can expect two things. Either the singers and dancers are pros, possibly veterans of the stage version, in which case you get great musical performances but often eye-rolling acting.

Or the principles are real actors gamely taking a shot at the song and dance, usually resulting in vastly more rewarding storytelling.

This broadly appealing film leans toward the latter, but comes as close as possible to pulling off a cinematic experience that satisfies both camps.  

Ryan’s a talented musician who is now playing tinkly piano in restaurants but hopes to one day open his own jazz club. Emma’s an aspiring actress who is beginning to think she may always be a barista. Their paths cross. Three times.

Add a comfortable retro feel with a tad of today’s self-awareness, flawless choreography, inspired special effects and the pure artistic drive of 31-year-old writer/director Damien Chazelle (Whiplash), and you’ve got a winner.

No, Ryan Gosling (very good) and Emma Stone (even better) are not Astaire and Rogers, but perhaps this adds to their appeal. They’ve done their homework and practiced a lot, and succeed more often than not in selling their musical numbers while bringing quality and believability (and terrific chemistry) to the talky parts.

Let’s do the adjectives: intoxicating, sprawling, exuberant, alive, passionate and hopeful. And I like that the piercingly sweet ending is, within the genre, touchingly authentic.
You’d be a fool not to watch this on the biggest screen you can find. (128 min)